Road Scholar

By Erika Mitchell

This summer for fun, exercise, and personal enlightenment, I have decided to embark on a project to walk every road in my town (Calais). Sort of like a Long Trail hike, but I get to sleep in my own bed every night. While I'm out there walking, I thought it would be fun to try to map the species that I see so that I (and anyone else using iNaturalist) could see where things grow.

In order to make the most of this project as an ecological study, I figure I need a sampling plan. Stratified random sampling, where samples are taken at defined intervals (such as every 50 meters), is a common technique in ecological surveys since it ensures that all areas are likely to be covered, and that samples aren't specially selected according to the interest of the sampler (or ease of access). But stratified random sampling requires measuring distances and that sounds like too much work for a just-for-fun project. Instead, I thought I would simply set a timer for 5 minutes, walk my intended route, and whenever the timer beeps, stop and take a photo of the 3 closest (wild) tree species. I decided to focus on tree species since they are relatively easy to identify and many other species are correlated with the occurrence of specific tree species. If I walk at more or less the same pace, the samples will be spread apart sort of evenly, and if I don't watch the timer, the samples will be random rather than selected due to interest.

In the meantime, I also keep a lookout for rare or endangered species, invasive species, plants I don't know, and indicator species of various types. And try to watch for animals, too. After walking just a few sections of town roads in this way, I've already learned a few things, such as how someone (probably the road crew) is spreading both comfrey and poison ivy along our roads, how mature planted trees can spread offspring up and down a road (weeping willow, honey locust, red oak, and red pine), and how it seems just about every road has a gorgeous waterfall somewhere. I'm looking forward to learning more!

The most important requirement for this project is a GPS unit that reliably provides accurate location information. I'm still working on that--I started with a point-and-shoot camera with built-in GPS, but found that its coordinates were off by as much as 1/4 mile! Then I tried a GPS unit on my DSLR camera, but it broke, and so did its replacement, and it seems there are no reliable models on the market. My next thought is a phone geo-tagging app to pair with my camera (Android phone/Nikon camera). I'll try out some tomorrow.

I would welcome feedback on any aspect of my project--the sampling plan, GPS ideas, etc. Have you tried a similar project? What did you learn?

Posted on 18 June, 2015 16:53 by kpmcfarland kpmcfarland


Very neat! I have done some similar things (in fact some overlapped with yours :) ) I work in the natural resource field, so methodology heavy stuff to me is best left at work (or else it won't be as fun). I also hike/walk often with my wife and sometimes with others as well, and choose not to slow them down in those cases. I don't want to torture my wife by making her stop every 5 minutes and get bitten by bugs... she loves being outside but likes to keep moving :) What I do is just map each plant I see once, the first time I see a good example, if I can. I don't put things multiple times unless, as with you... it is something important... rare, invasive, unusual flowering characteristics, unusual location, unusual natural community, etc. If I see animals I put them in too if I can, but I am not a great ear-birder. The downside of this approach is that it doesn't account for abundance at all, if I walk 5 miles through a sugar maple dominated forest I only put in one or two sugar maples and also one ash tree even if it's the only ash tree I see all day. So my methodology on these walks isn't perfect... love to hear what others do.
I've loved seeing your observations Erika, and look forward to more! (and trying to help with IDs)

Posted by charlie over 8 years ago

What a cool idea! I look forward to hearing more about what you find!

Posted by carrieseltzer over 8 years ago

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