Carroll University environmental science major and biology minor Keely Gobat recently spearheaded a freshwater mussel research project in collaboration with biology professor Dr. Todd Levine. Their project is hosted by the website Zooniverse, using a type of collaborative research involving the general public often referred to as ‘citizen science.’ Participants can measure photos of mussel shells found on Gobat’s Zooniverse page, creating data which will then be collected and analyzed.
“Our Zooniverse project is focused on the idea of digitizing the mussel collection and allowing everyday citizens without a scientific background to partake in a research project,” said Gobat. “This program allows us to give citizens a step by step process of how to take the measurements in an attempt to make it as hassle free as possible.”
The mussel shells available for measurement come from three different collections spanning the 20th and early 21st century. The first two collections of mussel shells, belonging to the Milwaukee Public Museum, were gathered in the early 1900s and 1970s, opposing a recent collection from 2016 and 2017. These modern mussel shells were gathered by two students, one being from UW-Milwaukee and the other being recent alumna Christina Bruno, as part of field research they conducted in Southeastern Wisconsin thanks to DNR funding Dr. Levine received.
After collecting the measurements on these mussels through the Zooniverse platform, Gobat and Levine will assess variations in freshwater mussel shell composition and shapes over the last century. They hope to discover whether changes are occurring to these imperiled animals as a consequence of their shifting environments.
Gobat and Levine were then invited to present this ongoing research at the Milwaukee Public Museum’s member-exclusive program, Inside Out. The event showcased extensive research and various artifacts from the museum’s collections which are not normally displayed. Members learned about how the museum is preserving the past while also investing in innovative research, such as the Zooniverse project. Gobat and Levine ran a booth at the event, an impactful opportunity for them to personally engage with the public and hear feedback on their work.
“It was amazing to see the reactions of people who didn’t know much about freshwater mussels,” commented Gobat. “Once they were told the importance of mussels in the communities they live in, they seemed to perk up and listen more about what we are trying to do.”
Presenting her complex research to the public forced Gobat to better her own understanding of the project, allowing her to gain important experience for future research or assignments during her career.
“The personal impacts I took from this is that it does get easier to present your research the more you talk about it,” said Gobat. “You find the things that you know would interest people and the more excited you are about a project, the more excited they will be.”
Since launching their research project on Zooniverse, more than 100 individuals have contributed over 1,000 measurements. You can learn more about Gobat and Levine’s research and contribute your own measurement on their Zooniverse page.