Citizen Science Coordinator
Assistant Curator, Herpetology
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Check out this interview with Lila Higgins and Sam Easterson, the folks behind the Spider Pavilion!
The goal of the Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California (RASCals) citizen science project is to improve our knowledge of native and non-native reptiles and amphibians in southern California*. Southern California is home to 22.5 million people and has experienced dramatic urbanization and habitat modification. Museum specimens provide a historical record of where particular species were found in the past, but we need more information on exactly where these species are found today. This is why we need your help in documenting reptiles and amphibians throughout southern California. Observations will allow us to test how the ranges of various species have responded to habitat modification. So we care about observations from less urbanized places and also observations from heavily urbanized places such as downtowns, schools, neighborhoods, and backyards.
People have also brought numerous non-native species to southern California. Some species were introduced intentionally (like the bullfrog) and others were stowaways hitching rides with cargo (like the Mediterranean House Gecko). We want to learn where these non-natives occur and also what native species they might be interacting with in their new California home.
This research is motivated by basic science, in the sense that through the help of thousands of citizen scientists, we are studying the natural history of southern California's reptiles and amphibians. And we expect multiple scientific publications to result from this research. The first publication is already complete with the Bernstein's publishing their record of the Mediterranean House Gecko in Herpetological Review with the assistance of museum scientists. However, our goals are not only motivated by basic science. Importantly, this research also has an applied focus. Our discoveries of what factors are important in determining where various species do and don't occur can be applied towards future urban planning, conservation, invasive species management, and habitat restoration.
*Here, southern California is defined as the ten southernmost counties in California (i.e., San Luis Obispo, Kern, and San Bernardino Counties and all counties south of these).