Islands are important conservation sites. But because island ecosystems are often extremely fragile, the people who live on them are simultaneously the source of the greatest stress on these ecosystems and potentially their most effective protectors. To begin to address this issue, this project engages island residents, particularly students, in the process of community science: co-developing and co-investigating issues of local concern using the tools of science. This project specifically focuses on training cohorts of high school students to study the behavior patterns of endangered species. Interactions between humans and these species can serve as a microcosm of the larger issues of human ecology on islands, and results of these students' investigations can help to find ways that people can productively co-exist with non-human animals. Further, these students' participation in this project may increase their understanding of the scientific process and their motivations for conservation. Because this proposed study engages high school students in an ecologically fragile part of the world, it has the potential to have a significant positive impact on conservation and ecological awareness in a uniquely vulnerable environment and to serve as a model for similar efforts around the world.
This community science project has three tiers. First, local high-school students are trained to collect observations on endangered species, their behaviors, and any changes to these behaviors due to the presence of humans. These students are also responsible for disseminating their results to their community and developing new conservation efforts, with the guidance of the project team. The second tier involves an empirical investigation of how these students experience the impacts of their participation in this project. This research will examine the extent to which this deep engagement in community science affects the students' attitudes towards conservation, ecological literacy, and understanding of the nature of science. The third tier involves philosophical reflections on the project, specifically the ways in which it can inform questions about the epistemology and ethics of science and contribute to parallel discussions in philosophy of conservation biology. This project thus benefits endangered species, has the potential to increase students' motivations to protect their local environment, generates novel scientific insights, and stimulates a small but growing literature on the philosophy of community science.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.