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Clemson Goes High-Tech Using Apps for Firefly Study

10:42 AM, Aug 2, 2013   |    comments
A screen shot showing the Clemson University Firefly Flash Counter app in iTunes
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By Nathaniel Cary, Greenville News

Clemson University released results from its 2013 statewide firefly count, which saw greater participation from citizen scientists this year than any of the previous counts.

Researchers who launched the Vanishing Firefly Project plan to gather data  over several years from across the state to determine how development patterns affect the firefly population.

It's too soon to draw any major conclusions, said biogeochemist Alex Chow, who along with entomologist J.C. Chong, lead the research.

"It's too early to make a really conclusional statement about it," Chow said. "But one thing I'm really happy about is that there are a lot of firefly populations around the state. A lot of areas still have a healthy population. I think it's important to keep it conserved."

Chow said the number of participants increased greatly this year following media reports, including one on GreenvilleOnline.com, about the count, which was held June 1.

More than 1,000 participants used the new Firefly Flash Counter application on the iPhone and another 500 entered data online using a website the research team set up for the event, he said.

The first year of the count, in 2010, had about 100-120 participants, he said.

Next year, Chow said the team would like to develop apps for other phones and continue to expand the number of citizens involved. In future years, he's like to form smaller teams of interested citizens who could document when they first begin to see lightning bugs each year, count their populations throughout the summer months and report when the fireflies begin to disappear as fall approaches.

Fireflies are fewer and harder to find in some communities along the coast lately because of urban development and changes in forestry practices.

Chow said he hopes to document the affect on fireflies as the state faces more urban development in the next decade.

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