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Earth Notes: Monitoring the Bosque

The fast-growing field of “citizen science” is a proven way for local residents—young and old—to build direct connections to their environment and help professional scientists conduct essential research.

In the riverside forest of New Mexico—called by its Spanish name, “bosque”— such a project involves over eight thousand children and their teachers in a University of New Mexico study of the state’s biggest river and its associated ecosystem.

The Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program contributes to the Río Grande’s health by regularly gathering facts about forest-related precipitation, groundwater, vegetation, and water quality.

Students and teachers from second grade through high school are guided by university interns and professional scientists in checking conditions at 31 locations along a 350-mile stretch of the Río Grande. They measure data such as groundwater depth, the activity of arthropods, and the productivity of various plants.

The data are turned over to government agencies and researchers, who’ve been using it since 1996 to follow trends along the river. They’ve confirmed, for example, that both groundwater and river flow are declining at most locations—and that regular flooding helps native plants compete against non-natives.

The program is a chance to observe and discuss such animals as migrating sandhill cranes, dam-building beavers, and tree-climbing porcupines. Students see how droughts, floods, fires, and invasive plants all have an impact on the Río Grande and its bosque.

Through hands-on learning about this nearby ecosystem, it’s hoped that these young citizen scientists will become good stewards of this natural treasure as adults. 

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