OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

New holder of endowed chair at OSU seeks “citizen scientists”

12/15/2010

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The new holder of an endowed chair at Oregon State University designed to promote “watchable wildlife” wants to make a contribution to science that will long outlast the five years he will serve in the position.

And he wants to engage a legion of volunteers to join the effort as citizen scientists.

W. Douglas “Doug” Robinson is the new holder of the Bob and Phyllis Mace Chair of Watchable Wildlife in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. An avian ecologist, Robinson is an associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, where he has spent much of his career studying songbirds and bird habitat.

Robinson’s vision centers around using the endowed position as a catalyst to engage citizens with an interest in wildlife in recording their observations, data, and even photographs to broaden the pool of information available to contemporary and future scientists.

“Imagine how our perspective on, say, bird populations in Oregon might differ if Lewis and Clark had measured abundances 200 years ago,” Robinson said. “What if we had records of not just birds, but other wildlife and habitats? This kind of ‘citizen science’ is not only becoming more popular, it could be quite valuable, especially in measuring how animals respond to potential climate change.

“Certainly there are concerns about the quality of data,” he added. “But that is where the Mace professorship can play a role – to provide training for volunteers on how to gather and report information that can be used by scientists over the next several decades.”

Robinson, who will begin his term as holder of the Mace chair in January, said he will begin designing a certificate program and exploring different training options for volunteers. New technologies including global positioning system (GPS) make logging precise locations of wildlife sightings possible for volunteer researchers.

Dan Edge, who chairs the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, says this kind of citizen science effort is an ideal initiative for the Mace Chair.

“There are a lot of people with quality natural history skills that are interested in and willing to collect data,” Edge said. “Studies of birds are particularly well-suited for such efforts because there are so many outstanding birders around the country.

“And this professorship is a great way to recognize the man – Bob Mace – who coined the term ‘watchable wildlife’ as an alternative to ‘non-game’ more than three decades ago,” Edge added.

Robinson has been on the OSU faculty since 2002, after spending four years at Auburn University. He is a 1987 graduate from Southern Illinois University, where he also earned a master’s degree in zoology. Robinson went on to get his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Illinois.

Bob Mace was a 1942 fisheries and wildlife graduate at OSU; his wife, Phyllis, graduated a year later from the College of Science. They left an estate gift of more than $1.5 million to OSU fisheries and wildlife that created the endowment bearing their name. The previous Mace professor, Bruce Dugger, will continue his work on wetland bird ecology as part of the OSU fisheries and wildlife faculty.

The first Mace chair holder was Edge, now on the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission and head of the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.