For Jennifer Godwin-Wyer, finding a project for the teens and children in her Mensa chapter was simple.
“I thought the youth members in our chapter would enjoy and benefit from learning about the plight of the monarch and contributing to the science of helping conserve this valuable natural resource,” she said.
A former geologist and nuclear physicist, Godwin-Wyer leads northwest Houston area youth in the Gulf Coast Mensa chapter of American Mensa, which is a nonprofit organization for individuals with IQs in the top 2 percent of the country.
For the past two years, Godwin-Wyer has maintained and monitored a certified monarch waystation and reported the data to Journey North Citizen Science, which relies on citizens to track monarch populations. She figured a hands-on science project with real-world applications would be more meaningful for group members.
“I wanted our youth members to realize that science needs them. They are the future of our world, and in order to preserve its natural resources and beauty, they need to get involved,” she said. “Nearly 90 percent of the flowering plants need pollinators to help them reproduce. With the bee population also in decline, it becomes even more important for butterflies to help with pollination.”
After announcing the project, Godwin-Wyer received an overwhelming response.
“Within one day, we had all 20 participant positions filled,” she said. “Now came the tricky part – getting permission from Harris County to allow our group to do our project at one of the parks.”
She learned that Harris County does not allow any catch and release program for animals or insects at its parks without the approval of the superintendent. Undaunted, she contacted Precinct 4 Parks Superintendent Dennis Johnston for permission. Within a day, she received a response from Kristina Lindberk with the Trails as Parks program and then a location to conduct her project: the butterfly garden at Dennis Johnston Park.
“She immediately gave her full support behind our project, and asked Fred Camarillo, president of the Spring Creek Education Society, if he would like to get involved as well,” said Godwin-Wyer.
Camarillo invited the group to help the Spring Creek Education Society expand the monarch habitat by planting milkweed at the park, not only to attract and help monarch butterflies, but also to prevent soil erosion along the banks of the creek.
“The Gulf Coast Mensa youth members who are participating in the Monarch Project have jumped right in to the project with excited gusto, and are having a blast learning about, monitoring, and helping with the conservation of the Monarch butterflies,” said Godwin-Wyer.
Since April, the group has met once per month to count monarchs and their eggs. Data collected during the count is sent to Journey North Citizen Science, Monarch Watch, and Monarch Health at the University of Georgia.
Godwin-Wyer also tags the butterflies using non-harmful stickers, tests them for parasites, and then releases them.
Lindberk said data collected during the events could be invaluable to scientists studying the disappearance of the monarch.
“We’ve lost 90 percent of our monarch population in the last 20 years,” said Lindberk. “They are being decimated, and this group is trying to find out why. It’s a huge loss to our pollinator population. This group wants to find out what is causing this loss, whether it’s predators, pesticides, parasites, or a combination. Also, the data will help researchers find out where the loss is occurring. As the monarchs migrate to Mexico, where do the numbers start to drop off?”
In the future, Lindberk said she hopes TAP can bring more citizen science projects to the public.
“We are expanding our citizen science programs. Right now, TAP offers a water monitoring program on select days,” she said. “Nature affects everyone. We want to help other groups get involved and make a difference.”
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