The Marble Bowl: Citizen science takes the field
Published 4:12 pm Wednesday, August 31, 2022
By Cole Sikes
Alabama Cooperative Extension System
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – In the fall, the return of football is highly anticipated. For most Alabama residents, late November showcases the game that they have waited for: the Iron Bowl. This annual clash between Auburn University and the University of Alabama pits football fans of each team against each other to earn bragging rights for the year.
This year, to excite everyone’s inner scientist, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System expert aims to bring the gridiron competition of the Iron Bowl into the realm of citizen science. Dubbed the Marble Bowl, this unique contest allows Auburn and Alabama football fans to compete all season in their local ecosystems.
In simple terms, citizen science is the public’s participation in scientific research. The idea behind the Marble Bowl is to use the rivalry of the Iron Bowl to help collect some much-needed data for Alabama’s ecosystems.
“Alabama is blessed with incredible biodiversity and is among the highest in the nation,” said Wesley Anderson, an Alabama Extension forestry, wildlife and natural resources specialist and mastermind behind the Marble Bowl. “With these facts in mind, the increased need for documenting biodiversity around the state becomes clear.”
With citizen science, not possessing an advanced educational degree is not a barrier to documenting findings. According to Anderson, the reality is that nearly anyone can contribute to science if they wish.
“Our world is changing rapidly, and we need to develop a baseline of what biodiversity in our state looks like now so down the road we can assess how it differs and what we should do about it,” Anderson said. “This means observations made around where you live, work and play have value too.”
The Marble Bowl
In creating the Marble Bowl, Anderson coordinated his efforts with the Alabama Museum of Natural History, Auburn University Museum of Natural History and Auburn University College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment.
From September 3 through the weekend of the Iron Bowl, everyone can participate in the Marble Bowl by submitting observations of wild plants, animals and fungi to one of two projects on the iNaturalist platform. This online site stores crowdsourced, public observations of biological organisms. Listed below are the necessary steps to participate.
- Visit inaturalist.org and sign up for a free account. There is also a mobile application for smart devices.
- Follow the “The Marble Bowl” project to keep up with the current score.
o Be sure to join either the “Marble Bowl 2022 – Auburn University” or “Marble Bowl 2022 – University of Alabama” project to ensure your observations count and you’re contributing to the appropriate team. Only join one of the two projects or your observations will cancel each other out.
- To document an observation, you may shoot photos of wild organisms with your cell phone or camera.
o Because cell phone photographs are automatically timestamped and geotagged, all of the necessary information is already with the photograph when you upload it. If you prefer to take photos with a digital camera, be sure to note the location and include it with your observation if the camera doesn’t geotag it for you.
- Observations may be uploaded to iNaturalist through a web browser or the app. As you submit observations, the platform’s artificial intelligence will suggest an identification based off what is in the photo along with similar species that have already been observed nearby. You are allowed to suggest a different identification if you’re confident about what you saw. Select your species, and then submit your citizen science observation.
Some Ground Rules
To make sure that the contest is fair and remains competitive, there are a list of rules to follow.
- Winner – The winner of this competition will be the project that has the highest score out of 100 points. This total will be calculated from a combination of unique observers (40 percent of total score), unique observations (30 percent) and unique species (30 percent), as determined by the iNaturalist platform. For example, if the Alabama project has 1,000 unique observers and the Auburn project has 900, Alabama gets the full 40 points while Auburn earns 36.
- Location – Observations must occur within the state of Alabama.
- Date and time – Observations must occur between kickoff weekend (Midnight Saturday, September 3) and the end of Iron Bowl weekend (11:59 pm Sunday, November 27). No photographs taken before this time can be used.
- No captive/cultivated observations – As much as people may love their pets, they aren’t suitable subjects for iNaturalist observations. The goal of this project is to record observations of wild plants, animals, fungi and other organisms across the state. Pets–along with other domesticated animals like horses, chickens and goats–should not be added to the project. Observations of cultivated plants are not allowed either.
- Quality grade – To be counted in the competition, observations must meet the criteria for Research Grade or Needs ID. Read about those classifications more on the iNaturalist website.
It’s Almost Time
Get a kick start on your team’s success this football season by expressing your inner scientist. The Marble Bowl is the perfect opportunity to carry some extra bragging rights during this exciting season in Alabama. For more information on the Marble Bowl and other research initiatives, visit the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu.