SUNY Cobleskill Students Use iMapInvasives to Learn New Skills and Contribute Data to New York State Efforts

 

Article contributed by the New York iMapInvasives Team

October 2016

 

For the past three years, students from the Terrestrial Ecology course at the State University of New York at Cobleskill have joined forces with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation along with the New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) to use an interactive application to map locations of invasive species around the campus. 

 

Professor Kevin Berner and Instructional Support Assistant Eric Struening taught students how to use field guides to identify plants and classify which ones are invasive species in their area. The students were also trained to contribute data into the NYS Invasive Species Database using iMapInvasives.  This system provides natural resource professionals information about species distributions and management efforts. Data comes from many different sources, such as state agencies, non-profit conservation groups, and citizen scientists.

Students entered data they collected around campus on invasive plants into iMapInvasives, either from the field using the smartphone app or later from a computer browser. As the project leader within iMapInvasives for the class, Eric Struening was able to review the submitted data, which also was reviewed by staff at NYNHP by looking at photos. According to student Conor Cubit: “I believe that learning about iMapInvasives was an incredibly useful application. SUNY Cobleskill is such an advanced school in the fisheries and wildlife, and environmental sciences program, offering possibilities for students that many other universities would never even think of. Not only was iMapInvasives an incredibly awesome interface, but it was also very easy to learn, and the phone app made application in the field very quick and easy.”

One student, Heather Maranville, took what she learned in class and applied it to an additional student project. She used the iMapInvasives smartphone app to record invasive species on SUNY Cobleskill's newly acquired 120-acre property, COBY Farms. “This semester I have learned about invasive plant species, how they affect an ecosystem, and the various methods of combatting their presence (and spread) through a habitat, as well as the application of this knowledge in wildlife professions. Beyond the functionality of assisting biologists with identifying a presence of invasive species in Cobleskill, I hope that teachers can utilize this collected data to provide useful areas for future students who are learning about invasive species,” said Heather.

This type of hands-on experience is essential for students considering a career in the natural resources. “As technology has become more advanced within the field, it is equally important that young biologists and conservationists work together in this partnership with the iMapInvasives application,” said Mr. Struening. “In the lab, our students used necessary field guides to correctly identify species and in turn be able to determine if it is an invasive species. The interactive software can be viewed on a computer desktop and be entered into the New York State Database.”

Not only did students learn valuable job skills, they also contributed to New York’s knowledge of invasive species distributions. Over 200 observations for 30 different invasive species have been entered by SUNY Cobleskill students from the participating Terrestrial Ecology classes.

Text and photos contributed by Eric Struening, SUNY Cobleskill in collaboration with Jennifer Dean, New York Natural Heritage Program.

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