Background/Question/Methods The Tennessee Butterfly Monitoring Network (TBMN) is a community science project of Zoo Knoxville. It was created to study butterfly population trends on managed lands in Tennessee to help land managers make informed decisions to improve pollinator habitat. It has since expanded to include monarch tagging programs, field trips and promotion of pollinator habitat.
We are dependent on volunteers and public involvement. Therefore, we need to know, “How can we best engage the public in butterfly science and conservation.”
Several methods been tried ranging from adult volunteer opportunities requiring significant long-term commitments to programs targeted to families. Our primary effort is the butterfly monitoring program. Volunteers commit to monitoring a 0.5 mile to 2 mile route at least once every two weeks from mid-April through July, identifying and recording every butterfly they observe within twenty feet of their route. Our next largest effort is public monarch tagging programs for all ages during the fall migration. We have also offered “butterfly forays” where we take groups on butterfly counts and “butterfly brunches” which include a short informal discussion about butterfly science and conservation over a picnic brunch before going on a butterfly count. Results/Conclusions By far our most popular program is monarch tagging. In 2020 we scheduled eight fee-based public programs and one fee-based private program reaching 131 participants. We initially expected monarch tagging to be most popular among families with young children. However, 69% of participants were adults. Anecdotally, we are finding that participants are engaged by the migration story of the monarch and by the opportunity to be involved in scientific research. This has provided us with a significant opportunity to educate the public about imperiled butterflies, pollinators as a whole, our dependence on them and how they can help. Our least popular program is volunteering to monitor butterfly routes, but it is also the most effective at collecting valuable data. In eight years volunteers have conducted 312 surveys with over 21,400 butterfly observations. Out of our six current volunteers, three of them initially found out about butterfly monitoring through the monarch tagging programs.
Engaging the public in scientific research not only teaches them about the scientific method and provides opportunities to educate about conservation, but it also introduces them to more in-depth opportunities to participate in research and conservation. We view our non-monitoring programs as potential gateways to create new volunteers for butterfly science.