Project Wavyleaf: A Towson University citizen science initiative
Oplismenus undulatifolius (wavyleaf basketgrass) is a relatively new invasive species in the mid-Atlantic region. This grass was first found in 1996 in Patapsco Valley State Park and has since spread to many locations throughout Maryland and Virginia. Continued submission of new points to the EDDMapS database and conversations with land managers indicate that new populations are continually being discovered. However, there is no comprehensive map of wavyleaf basketgrass distribution in the United States, or even in Patapsco Valley State Park, the initial point of invasion.
Mapping efforts not only track expansion of existing populations and locate new infestations, but also increase public and political awareness of invasive species. Existing mobile applications for invasive species mapping are designed for the opportunistic mapping of many species. They also cannot accept absence points, which are crucial to tracking the spread of an invasive species. To address this, we have developed and are pilot-testing Project Wavyleaf, user-friendly mobile-phone (iOS and Android) application that is designed for intensive targeted mapping of a single species. Participants are recruited through contacts with local environmental organizations and are invited to download the app and either attend a half-hour training session or access data collection protocols on the internet.
After two summers of pilot-testing, Project Wavyleaf has 111 registered users who have submitted 260 points. However, usage of the app is very uneven. Only 26% of registrants used the app to submit points; only 8 participants submitted more than 10 points; and only 9 participants submitted absence points. The most involved participants tended to be associated with an organized mapping effort, including targeted mapping projects at natural areas or summer camp projects focused on ecology and invasive species. Our results show that it is rare for individuals to use the app on their own. To address this we have developed Project Wavyleaf @ Patapsco, with the intent of mapping wavyleaf basketgrass throughout the entirety of Patapsco Valley State Park in summer 2015. The current concept involves recruiting various outdoor-oriented organizations and park user groups to adopt a zone of the park and map all the trails for wavyleaf basketgrass. In addition to mapping the distribution of O. undulatifolius, other objectives of Project Wavyleaf @ Patapsco include learning how to better recruit, engage and manage the large number of volunteers required for this endeavor, and to increase public awareness of the impacts of invasive species.