A World Connected through Likes, Clicks, and Tweets
Back in 1867, American farmers organized a national network known as the Grange to share information and strengthen connections across far-flung farming communities. The Grange is still a feature in rural America 150 years later. But increasingly, farmers and researchers share information through social media more than by social gatherings, creating powerful online communities through a variety of networks in this new connected world.
Soil scientist Rebecca Lybrand brings soil to life through videos shared via YouTube. Lybrand studies soil pedology, learning how soils are formed. Using a GoPro camera strapped to her head (or any available appendage), Lybrand combines science with art and storytelling to build an appreciation for soils and science.
“Soil is not ‘dull as dirt’,” Lybrand says. Soil tells the story of the land around it—including how processes such as climate are shifting. Currently, she is scouting potential soil sites from Alaska to Oregon for her next video dedicated specifically to the soils of the Pacific Northwest.
“We have an incredibly diverse and beautiful array of soils here in the Pacific Northwest,” she explains. “There’s a lot to share online with these videos.”
Robin Rosetta, an OSU Extension entomologist, began using Twitter in 2009 to connect with Oregon’s nursery industry. She regularly sends pest alerts throughout the state and invites participation in delightfully named workshops, such as her Shop of Little Horrors and OktoberPest, and her slug management manifesto, Slime and Punishment.
Many more researchers have followed Rosetta into Twitter. OSU Extension horticulturist Brooke Edmunds shares research-based gardening tips through Twitter, and the College of Agricultural Sciences dean tweets what’s on his mind through the college’s account, under the hashtag #DeanDanArp.
As the curator of Oregon State’s extensive Ichthyology Collection, Brian Sidlauskas studies the taxonomy, biodiversity, and evolution of fishes. He made news back in 2011 when he used Facebook as a fast way to identify and catalog thousands of fishes he encountered on a sampling trip to Guyana. Later, he was featured in a Facebook video promoting the social network as a way to speed up scientific discovery. Sidlauskas turned to Facebook again during a recent expedition to Gabon to document fish species prior to the construction of hydroelectric dams on several Gabonese rivers.
Sidlauskas and the OSU Ichthyology Collection are popular on Facebook; he counts over 3,000 friends and followers on his pages, used by individuals and the media as the go-to site for fish identification. Expanding the shared experience of science, Sidlauskas and his collaborators participated in a satellite March for Science in April 2017, to globalize science advocacy and activism.
“Science is people,” he says. “Fieldwork involves triumphs and setbacks; we want people to follow along.”
Plant pathologist Christina Hagerty is dedicated to controlling the fungi and nematodes that affect Oregon’s dryland wheat. That sounds technical, but it’s also visually arresting. The spare, wide open spaces of the Pendleton landscape are a perfect backdrop to Hagerty’s Instagram account, where she shares the science of dryland wheat production. Her photos help growers identify, for example, wheat infected with mosaic virus or suffering from snow mold. Through the Pendleton Cereal Pathology Lab, Hagerty uses photos as diagnostic tools as well as a celebration of Oregon’s wheat-growing region.
Hundreds of growers and crop consultants around the Willamette Valley depend on OSU researcher Jessica Green. Her work is part of an early warning pest-detection program called VegNet, run entirely on an email marketing platform.
From May to September, Green spends her time setting and monitoring insect traps for vegetable pests across the valley. For years, commercial growers have benefitted from her service and they welcome her traps near their production fields. She tallies the data to determine pest counts, life-cycle stage, and further methods to scout for the pests she’s uncovered.
Green uses MailChimp to reach VegNet subscribers, reporting her pest counts and scouting methods. Through this email marketing tool, Green can also receive information from her audience, such as how many growers open her email reports and which links they follow. That way, Green tracks the effectiveness of her emails, allowing her to tailor her communications to the demographics of her growers. She’s found that videos and interactive maps are more effective with her growers than platforms such as Twitter. “The goal,” she says, “is to find a balance between new technology to attract new users and the familiarity that established users rely on.”
OSU VegNet on Twitter.
Fishermen, regulatory agencies, and scientists have sometimes had an uneasy relationship. However, fisheries geneticist Michael Banks has seen firsthand that these groups can work well together by sharing data.
His Project CROOS (Collaborative Research on Oregon Ocean Salmon) involves fishermen, scientists, and managers working together to ensure salmon stock health through real-time tracking. Fishermen record fish data directly as they are caught, using waterproof tablet computers. Software called Pacific FishTrax synthesizes and maps the information for agencies, scientists, and the fishing community so they can follow the movement of various stocks of salmon. These data can help pinpoint the location and movement of endangered stocks to inform and prompt potential fishing closures in specific places and times to prevent overfishing.
“The data belong to the fishermen,” Banks says. “Project CROOS opens the analysis to the whole community.” In turn, Banks has seen increased confidence in fisheries management and in the marketability of ocean-caught salmon. Following a recent salmon-run closure, Banks says, “I had a fisherman say to me ‘They do get it right!’”
When Nik Wiman and David Lowenstein needed lots of information fast about a quickly emerging insect pest, they asked the public for help. The pest is the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), found for the first time in Oregon in 2004. Since then, Wiman, an entomologist and the OSU Extension orchard crops specialist for western Oregon, has been on the trail of the BMSB. Lowenstein, a postdoctoral research associate, is focused on this stink bug’s natural enemy, the samurai wasp. The samurai wasp is not widespread across Oregon, so Wiman and Lowenstein need more eyes on the ground. That’s where the public comes in.
The researchers developed a simple web form and asked growers and others to report sightings of brown marmorated stink bugs and any eggs that appear to be parasitized by the samurai wasp. Wiman and Lowenstein confirm sightings of BMSB or samurai wasp from photos submitted in reports. The reports are available to the public as maps and databases, a collaboration between OSU and Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapSWest) at the University of Georgia. It’s worth checking out, even if you’re not a grower, as these maps show the movement of brown marmorated stink bugs from crops into homes for the winter.
After 50,000 bumblebees died following a pesticide application in Wilsonville in 2013, interest skyrocketed in pollinator health. Andony Melathopoulos, OSU Extension’s statewide pollinator health specialist, wondered how he might connect people with more of the issues facing honeybees, bumblebees, and other pollinators. Why not tell their stories?
Melathopoulos began to capture these stories as podcasts. Now, each week on his podcast, PolliNation, he focuses on various aspects of pollinator health. At over 500 downloads per episode, Melathopoulos is struck by PolliNation’s success; he’s received responses and questions from people around the world.
“After four episodes in a row about honeybees,” Melathopoulos says, “I had a guy from eastern Canada contact me and say, ‘What about the other pollinators?’”
Podcasts lend themselves to easy curation. Melathopoulos has begun to thematically group together similar episodes and offer them as case-study downloads along with recommended OSU Extension publications.
Each new social media platform offers new opportunities to share and learn. “Our next challenge is to measure the impact from these new technologies,” Melathopoulis says.