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Citizen science game is “Big Brother for bugs”

A citizen science website game akin to “big brother for crickets” allows participants to take part in important hands-on research using insects to understand the ageing process.

Biologists at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus have teamed up with Cornish organisation FoAM Kernow, to set up the online interactive project. It puts a fun twist on an appeal for help from the public in analysing hundreds of thousands of hours of video footage.

People taking part in the Cricket Tales game, which involves watching snippets of video and labelling various cricket behaviours and experiences such as mating, fighting and being attacked by predators, will contribute important data to the project.

Dr Rolando Rodríguez-Muñoz, a researcher at the University of Exeter’s Penryn campus, and his colleagues, are monitoring an entire population of wild crickets in a field in Spain with 140 digital video cameras. The biologists are using crickets to try to understand why there is so much variation among individuals in all species and why all organisms, including humans, change as we get old.

They devised the game as a means of enlisting help in the research in an accessible and appealing way. It is easy to take part and no big time commitment is required.

The researchers are keen to stress that the project, funded by The Natural Environment Research Council, is an opportunity for members of the public to take part in real and important research.

Tom Tregenza, Professor of Evolutionary Ecology, said: “We have many thousands of hours of footage to examine and the support of the public in this project will be invaluable. People will be helping us to analyse raw video that will let them see what insects really get up to in the wild, while contributing to our knowledge about biological variation, evolution and ageing.”

Penryn-based FoAM Kernow built the game. The organisation specialises in enabling people to develop creative and confident relationships with science and technology. FoAM said: “Citizen science is a powerful way to do research that would otherwise be impossible – it also provides a window into how scientific research is performed for people who otherwise wouldn't be exposed to it”.

Visit the Cricket Tales webpage to take part in the game and the research.

More information about the aims of the University of Exeter project can be found on the official website

Date: 18 May 2016

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