Zoo, Nebraska 4-H collaborate on amphibians project

jbrehm2, October 27, 2010 | View original publication

Zoo, Nebraska 4-H collaborate on amphibians project

Thanks to 4-H'ers across Nebraska, scientists will be getting a better understanding of the health and welfare of amphibians in the state.

It's the latest development in a growing collaboration between Nebraska 4-H and Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, a collaboration that's drawing attention from their counterparts elsewhere in the country.

The two organizations started their relationship while working on 4-H's Wildlife Conservation curriculum, when 4-H curriculum specialist Patricia Fairchild sought outside feedback for the series. Elizabeth Mulkerrin, the zoo's education director, was impressed.

"When I told her that 4-H was in every county of the state and includes one out of three Nebraska youth … she got even more interested," Fairchild said. "At the conclusion of the meeting, we decided we had a lot of potential items we could work on together. She could see the potential — the kind of network and partnership that would really extend the zoo's educational efforts."

A recent collaboration between the zoo and 4-H is the curriculum Amphibians & You, which was begun by the zoo as part of an effort to educate Nebraskans about environmental and disease threats facing amphibians.

"They had about two years into the project," Fairchild said. "After they found out about 4-H's infrastructure, they gifted us their curriculum," which was rewritten in 4-H's style.

The zoo conducted training for Extension 4-H educators, who in turn are helping 4-H'ers use the manual to survey amphibian populations in Nebraska. About 200 people — extension educators, staff and others — have been trained.

These adult and youth "citizen scientists" are gathering data on amphibians — collecting water quality information, studying habitat, taking photos, even taking sample swabs from amphibians to be tested for the chytrid fungus, a serious threat to their survival.

"It's kind of snowballed," Mulkerrin said. "We now have thousands of students and hundreds of educators available to help collect data that scientists need."

Other efforts, including one involving a statewide butterfly survey, are planned.

"It's been a great partnership," Mulkerrin said, adding further collaborations are planned and colleagues in South Dakota and Iowa are interested in a similar effort.

"It's nice to see organizations come together with a common mission — working together to enlighten students to turn them on to science."

It happens that 4-H's national conference will be in Omaha next year, Fairchild said. She hopes to use that gathering to spread the word about the partnership, which could be a model elsewhere in the country.

Nebraska 4-H is part of University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, a division of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.