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Bugs On Alfalfa: A Citizen Science Project To Help Understand Biodiversity

Utah State University biology professors wants to engage the community with a unique citizen science project aiming to explore interactions between insects and alfalfa plants. 

Lauren Lucas and Zach Gompert at Utah State University are part of a collaborative study investigating interactions between plants, insects and microbes. They hope this study will help scientists predict how global change will affect patterns of biodiversity. They specifically focus on interactions between insects and wild alfalfa, which are located all over Cache Valley and provide a glimpse into a unique ecological community.

“When you look at one alfalfa, I guarantee you will see an insect on it, whether it be an herbivore that is there eating the plant as its food or you will likely find a pollinator like a bee, a butterfly, or a wasp. Or you might find a natural predator eating the herbivores on the plant - like a spider,” said Lauren Lucas, a biology lecturer and researcher at Utah State University.

As part of the citizen science component, Lucas is inviting everyone to take pictures of bugs on alfalfa plants and upload them to a phone app. She will use the pictures to help understand the biodiversity of insect species on alfalfa plants. Everyone is welcome to view the uploaded photos and learn about new insect species. Lucas says this project is fun way to engage families by making it a competition to see who can collect the most bug photos.

In addition to being fun, Lucas believes citizen science project are important for advancing science.

“The more people, the more data, the more ideas, and that just leads to a richer experience and a richer story. No one really does science alone or in a box, it really takes a community and the bigger the better,” Lucas said.

She hopes that these insect observations will help them discover new or complex insect-plant interactions.

For more information on this project find the iNaturalist project "Bugs on Alfalfa" on the web or through the app.