Right Under Their Nose: Los Angeles Scientists Work With Citizens to Document Urban Wildlife

Landscaped flower garden

Metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles are often referred to as concrete jungles. However, these urban jungles may be home to more wilderness and wildlife than previously thought.

Biologists are just now beginning to comprehend the amount of wildlife hidden in plain view in Los Angeles’s vast sprawl of urban and suburban areas. Residents of the City of Angels often catch brief glimpses of squirrels foraging in backyards, lizards sun bathing along worn hiking trails, and bees diligently pollinating bright flowers in home, office, and park landscaping.

However, urban jungle wildlife rarely gets the attention — or funding — it deserves, as exotic and remote locations often take center stage. Luckily, this notion is changing, and scientists spearheading the effort feel the success of the movement falls on the shoulders of “citizen scientists.”

A number of large-scale scientific research projects rely on average, everyday members of the community who have no formal or professional scientific experience to collect data about local wildlife species.

Some scientists feel these self-proclaimed citizen scientists hold the key to urban wildlife biology in their smartphones and mobile devices. It also helps to have an interest in biology, even if some forms of life are downright creepy.

“Los Angeles should be leading the world in urban biodiversity research,” said Greg Pauly, herpetology curator at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. Pauly is also the leader of a regional scientific survey of amphibians and reptiles. “Not only is there amazing biodiversity in our backyards, but how pathetic is it that, as a species, Homo sapiens are still so incredibly ignorant of the world around us that we can walk into a backyard and (quickly discover) a new species?”

Since involving citizens in urban wildlife research projects, scientists were able to discover 30 new species of flies. A nine-year-old boy discovered the very first recorded Mediterranean house gecko in the county, and the first Indo-Pacific gecko was discovered by a fellow citizen scientist.

Two new species of bats were found in Los Angeles outside the Natural History Museum, where newly landscaped nature gardens cover nearly 3.5 acres with native flora and fauna designed specifically to attract local wildlife.

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