An important goal in conservation biology is to promote connections between the general public and biodiversity. One means of achieving this goal is through the development of projects which invite citizens to participate in ecological research in their backyards and surrounding neighborhoods, thereby providing an established framework to encourage and facilitate the public’s exposure to local wildlife and ecosystems. One important and increasingly-appreciated aspect of projects such as these is the accessibility of participation by younger generations, who will become increasingly vital to the success of future conservation strategies as they become older, more-influential stakeholders. In conjunction with the Fairchild Challenge, a nationally-recognized environmental education program for K-12 students that reaches >200,000 students per year, we developed a project, “Lizards on the Loose”, aimed at encouraging high school students to conduct local surveys of reptile biodiversity.
More than 1100 students from over 70 high schools conducted multiple independent biodiversity surveys of reptiles, primarily Anolis lizards, across the Greater Miami (FL) area during the “Lizards on the Loose” project’s initial two years. Fundamental to the success of this project has been the additional production of detailed species identification booklets and tutorial videos, hosting of seminars for associated high school teachers, and establishing competitions for student-submitted presentations detailing their successful data collection. Developing a relationship between non-scientists and organismal diversity is critical to the implementation and success of conservation strategies. Projects such as these are valuable exercises in creating a connection between the general public and biodiversity and will be important to long-term conservation success.