Will you be shaking up your normal routine on Monday to catch the solar eclipse?
Animals will, too, and scientists need your help to track their behavior.
Because of the infrequency in time and location of total solar eclipses, scientists historically have had difficulty studying broad, controlled data collections on eclipse-related animal behavior.
While zoos and nature preserves are able to observe animal behavior in a secure environment, the advent of smartphone technology means biologists and conservationists can crowdsource behavioral data from all over the globe.
"This is really an opportunity to study a rare event, and it allows us to study triggers to animal behaviors," Bryan Pijanowski, professor and director of Purdue’s Discovery Park Center for Global Soundscapes, said in a press release. "Are some of the crickets that sing at night going to start singing during the middle of the day? Is the cardinal that is normally singing during the day going to stop singing?"
WPijanowski studies soundscape ecology, or how sound affects wildlife and how wildlife uses vocalization. His Purdue lab hopes to collects hundreds (or thousands) of audio files from the eclipse’s "path of totality" to areas where the sun is only 60 percent eclipsed.
Purdue’s Soundscape Ecology research group developed an app, Record the Earth, for citizen scientists to submit audio files and log notes while researchers monitor submissions in real time.
Bruce Stein, the National Wildlife Federation’s associate vice president for conservation science, said the combination of hobby naturalists and smartphones has been a boon for scientific data in recent years. Citizen scientists on waterways, at national parks and in their own backyards are able to spot rare species or invasive plant growth.
"Crowdsourced citizen science data is becoming increasingly important in a variety of fields," Stein said. "If you asked me 20 years ago how important it was, I might have said it’s interesting but not central to the work of professional conservation. But it’s really blossomed over the last 10 of 15 years or so."
There are so many bird watchers using online communities and apps to track their finds, Stein said, that biologists can track in real-time the migration of different species across North America. eBird, an online community partnered with the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, has issued a call for birders in the path of totality to submit their observational data.
"It really begins to provide a very fine-grain picture of how life is responding to different things," Stein said. "So this eclipse, in the U.S., is really the first opportunity to truly gather large amounts of data about animal behavior during this sort of event."
The California Academy of Sciences is asking citizen scientists to use their iNaturalist app to record eclipse-related animal behavior before, during and after the event.
So you’ve got your app ready to go, but how are the animals going to react?
Most animals will assume that it is simply approaching night and will begin making their bedtime preparations.
"It’s often been recorded that birds have become silent, animals will stop foraging and head toward their sleeping areas," Stein said. "Other critters, like chimps, have been observed exhibiting bewilderment or confusion by what’s going on, similar to ways that humans have historically reacted."
Most animals will quickly snap back to their routines when things return to normal, though they may seem a little baffled at first. Indoor, domesticated pets will be the least affected by the event, experts agree, due to their controlled environment.
Whether you simply want to watch the eclipse or engage with the scientific process, experts urge everyone to take the proper safety and health precautions. But with the proper preparation and technology, you can enjoy an historical event while collecting scientific data that could be studied for years to come.
"I think it’s great to give people an opportunity to not just witness this phenomenal event, but to help fill in our knowledge about how wildlife will respond to it," Stein said. "It will be interesting to get this richer depiction of how life really does respond to this."