Community science for monitoring and detecting dispersing insect pests: A case study using the “Budworm Tracker Program”

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University of New Brunswick


Community science is a data collection approach that provides volunteers with the unique opportunity to participate in research and allows scientists to involve the general public in the data collection component of their research project. This approach is unique because of its ability to cost-effectively collect data across vast geographic areas. The Budworm Tracker community science program has been running since 2015 and uses pheromone traps to track moth dispersal and densities of spruce budworm, Choristoneura fumiferana [Clem.]. The spruce budworm is an important outbreaking insect pest of spruce, Picea spp. (Mill) Brittain, and balsam fir, Abies balsamea (L.) Mill. trees that can disperse up to 450 km in northeastern North America. To better understand the advantages and disadvantages of using community science as a tool for monitoring important pests I compared the Budworm Tracker Program to a contemporaneous and overlapping conventional government-run pheromone trapping program. In my first data chapter, I quantitatively assessed the tradeoffs of geospatial distribution of sites, trap catch abundances and financial costs between these two monitoring and data collection approaches. I show that the community science program’s geospatial distribution of sites tended to be more clumped near cities and the conventional was more uniformly distributed. I also show that the two approaches had similar trap catch abundances with the community science program providing some phenological data and the community science approach was cheaper than the conventional. My results also showed that hybridizing the two approaches may provide a balance of tradeoffs by optimizing the benefits and reducing the shortcomings. For my second data chapter, I ran a preliminary study using stable isotope analysis to test if I could use 13C, 18O and 15N isotopes, to track the dispersal of spruce budworm moths. Using sleeve cages, I trapped budworm larvae on branches of balsam fir trees at four different sites within the approximate range limit of the previous spruce budworm outbreak. After pupation I returned to the sites to retrieve foliage samples and moth wings from each branch and tested for variation in isotopic ratios among sites back in the lab. My goal was to determine if this tool could help researchers better understand if moths caught in pheromone traps are locals or dispersed immigrants. This preliminary study showed some promising results that stable isotopes 13C and 18O may have the potential be used to monitor the movements of spruce budworm moths and determine the origin of those dispersers. However, there was no indication that 15N is a suitable isotope for tracking the movements of budworm dispersal. In summary, my thesis provides a unique comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of community science as well as some of its applications for enhancing monitoring and analyses to better understand dispersal.