The Habitable PlanetHabitable Planet home page

Unit 9: Biodiversity Decline // Section 11: Biodiversity in Your Back Yard


Biodiversity is not just an issue for scientists. Anyone who interacts with nature has a role to play in understanding and protecting biodiversity in her or his everyday environment. Observers contribute to many species monitoring projects—for example, the National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count (Fig. 15) and the annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), sponsored by Audubon and Cornell University on President's Day Weekend; Frogwatch USA, a frog and toad monitoring program sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation and the U.S. Geological Survey; and the Reef Environmental Education Foundation's fish and invertebrate monitoring programs (footnote 25).

Western Hemisphere locations for the Christmas Bird Count

Figure 15. Western Hemisphere locations for the Christmas Bird Count
See larger image

Source: National Audubon Society. Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Monitoring programs can help to protect biodiversity by increasing the amount of information that is available to scientists and policy makers. There are not enough trained scientists to monitor all species that are endangered or otherwise of interest, or the spread of invasive species, or the impacts of trends such as habitat fragmentation. In the United States, many agencies and organizations collect data on ecosystems, but often their data is not coordinated or integrated. In a 2006 report, the H. John Heinz Center identified ten key data gaps that impede effective reporting on the state of the nation's ecosystems. These gaps include:

Monitoring programs that involve the public are not always subject to the same design criteria and quality controls as scientific field studies, but they can generate large data sets over broad geographic areas at a low cost. During the 2006 Great Backyard Bird Count, volunteers tallied 623 species and more than 7.5 million individual birds, both records for the decade-old event. And new species may be found anywhere, especially microbial species. For example, in 2003 researchers from the American Museum of Natural History found a new species of centipede in leaf litter in New York's Central Park, and in 2006 a graduate student discovered a new bacterium in a salt pond on Cape Cod (footnote 27).

top of page

© Annenberg Foundation 2014. All rights reserved. Legal Policy