The Cleveland Museum of Natural History wants you to participate with us in ProtectCLE, protecting Cleveland’s Living Environment. The first project under ProjectCLE is Life in One Cubic Foot. This project is ideal for families studying science at home this spring and summer. The goal is to get outside, enjoy nature and don your citizen science hat. By focusing on small areas, sometimes familiar, sometimes overlooked, we can better understand how to protect the biodiversity around us.
The Life in One Cubic Foot project was launched by photographer David Liittschwager. Teaming up with The Smithsonian, Seneca Park Zoo, and National Geographic, Liittschwager set out to travel the globe in search of the perfect spots to place…a metal cube. What, you ask, does a wire-frame cube painted bright green have to do with appreciating the natural world? The concept for the biocube is to focus attention and bring biodiversity to light.
For the Life in a Cubic Foot exhibit at the Smithsonian in 2016, Biocubes were placed in environments across the globe to learn what lifeforms, both known and unknown, could be found in the cube during the course of a 24-hour day.
Liittschwager leads each investigation, placing the biocubes and photographing what flies, walks or swims through. Biocubes were carefully placed in a river bank in Rochester, a cloud forest in Costa Rica, New York’s Central Park, a coral reef, a rainforest in Madagascar, and with an remote operated vehicle in the open ocean. Hundreds of different organisms ranging in size from the head of a pin to the full size of the bio cube were captured, documented and released. Smithsonian scientist Chris Meyer led the team identifying species using microscopes, and entered (or ‘barcoded’) them into a database of biodiversity around the planet.
The really exciting part is that YOU can take part in this internationally connected project. Life in One Cubic Foot gives visitors step-by-step, do-it-yourself instructions on how to become citizen scientists in their own communities. Using just a few simple tools, visitors can do their own biocube survey almost anywhere— pond, field, or backyard.
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History is here to help. We’ve created the resources you’ll need to build and use a biocube.
Not to be daunted by the upending of our world from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Museum is planning a few virtual events to get started with the Biocube and ProtectCLE in April.
First, The Museum placed a biocube at our Mentor Marsh property, and will be posting about what we find inside this spring.
Next, mark your calendars for the City Nature Challenge happening April 24 through 27. To combat the isolation we all feel, City Nature Challenge is a fun, self-guided ‘bioblitz’ or weeklong effort to get outside and find as many plants and animals as you can. It’s a good excuse to build your Biocube early, and integrate science lessons with recess at home. Even if you don't get around to making a biocube, we encourage you to take photos of plants and animals you see in the park or on a neighborhood walk, and post them to the Cleveland-Akron-Canton City Nature Challenge page during the challenge week. If you share photos on social media, please include #ProtectCLE and #OneCubicFoot hashtags, and use the natural history museum Twitter handle @goCMNH.
Also, the State of Ohio has designated April Ohio Native Plant Month. In celebration, the Museum and the Lake Erie Allegheny Partnership for Biodiversity (LEAP) are highlighting native plants from the 10th anniversary of its Native Plant of the Year program. The site also features images of invasive plants, like garlic mustard and poison hemlock, to look out for (and pull out of the ground). If you find a native plant in your biocube or on a walk during City Nature Challenge, make sure to post it, with the hashtag #OhioNativePlantMonth
Then, Cleveland Museum of Natural History will launch ProtectCLE on Monday, April 20 on its #MuseumMondays virtual learning series. Check out a video explaining how to build a Biocube, how to use iNaturalist, and how you can participate.
Here’s your step-by-step guide to Life in a Cubic Foot.
The Plan —
You’re going to assemble a biocube and place it outside. What’s a biocube? Here’s a brief description and a short video explaining what it is and how to build one. Biocubes can be made with materials found at home. The goal is to focus on a one-cubic-foot spot in nature over time. You can also move your cube from one place to another to compare different natural areas. Your observations will contribute to a citizen science project; you are helping document and protect the amazing diversity of life found in Northeast Ohio.
Step One: Download the Biocube Building Instructions (pdf). You can find materials for a biocube at a local hardware store, or with items found around home. Our staff has built biocubes with their kids at home with toys like KNex, Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys. You could also use sticks and twine. It’s a mini lesson in geometry, too.
Step Two: Watch this 2-minute Smithsonian video about Selecting the Spot for your Biocube.
Pick an area outside where you can easily make repeated observations. It can be a spot in your yard, one that you can see from a window, or in a field at the end of your street. Download the ProtectCLE Field Notebook (pdf). It will guide you, and serve as a resource to what you may be observing.
Download the iNaturalist mobile app on your phone to start taking pictures of plants and animals (birds and insects) that you will upload to the iNaturalist community.
With a smartphone, or a digital camera and an internet connection, you will be uploading images to the world wide web of citizen scientists like you who are making observations using iNaturalist (available both as a website and a smartphone app). It allows you to see what others in the area are observing. Observations are useful to biologists and botanists who are studying the presence of native and invasive species, also, rare and endangered species. (iNaturalist is amazing. It will suggest a species to match your observation. Also, the community of scientists who use it will help you identify a species).