The best place for citizen science is wherever you are

By September 28th, 2021

You might not be living in a biodiversity hotspot, but the plants, animals and fungi around you matter! By recording them, you can contribute to citizen science.

Dr Erin Roger is CSIRO’s citizen science coordinator, based at the Atlas of Living Australia. Her research has shown that even the centres of cities can be important habitats for plants and animals.

“Many people are staying close to home at the moment due to lockdowns. This is an opportunity to observe our local environment during daily exercise. And to observe it more closely than we would at other times,” she said.

Brightly coloured bid perching on a branch.

Recording sightings like this variegated fairywren contributes data to scientific research. Photo uploaded to iNaturalist by rebelrebel55 CCBYNC

Start spotting wildlife

To get started recording the biodiversity local to you, simply download the iNaturalist app. Then head outside and start photographing the plants, animals and fungi you spot.

Your sightings will end up in the Atlas of Living Australia, where they’ll be available for people in Australia and around the world to use for research, education, biosecurity and conservation. You can also give permission for others to use your photos under a creative commons licence.

iNaturalist uses community expertise and image recognition software to identify sightings. It means no longer wondering what species that bird or tiny flower you’ve spotted might be.

“The machine learning behind the app means that even if you don’t know what you’ve photographed, the app can often tell you straight away. All observations are also verified by a global community of online experts. As a result, it’s a great way to learn about your local biodiversity,” said Erin.

Echidna citizen science making a difference

Close up of an echidna in a landscape of short grass.

An echidna spotted in southeastern New South Wales. Image: Richard Wild

Echidna CSI is a wildlife spotting project that highlights the extraordinary power of citizen scientists to make a difference.

“Echidnas are an iconic native species. Despite this, researchers don’t know a lot about the distribution, biology and diversity of wild populations,” Erin said.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide set up Echidna CSI to help. The project combines citizen science with the fields of ecology, genetics, biochemistry, and computer science.

The project is building a detailed distribution map of echidnas around Australia. This provides vital baseline data to assess impacts of events like bushfires. Researchers are also analysing echidna scats, collected by citizen scientists, to understand more about echidna biology.

As a citizen scientist, you can participate by downloadling the Echidna CSI app on your phone.

“The research team built the Echidna CSI app using the ALA’s BioCollect platform. This means observations flow into the ALA automatically,” said Erin.

“Echidna CSI has added more than 11,000 echidna records to the ALA and doubled ALA’s echidna sightings since it’s been operating since 2017.

“Anyone can use the ALA to visualise and harvest these records. For example, echidna records before and after the Black Summer bushfires are being used to monitor and assess the health of echidna populations. The comparison has revealed a change in echidna microbiomes in fire affected areas.”

Echidna CSI is a finalist in this year’s Eureka Prize for Innovation in Citizen Science.

Blitzing it in the Southern Hemisphere

Three people squatting in red sand observing tracks

Download iNaturalist and start photographing the plants and animals you see.

A great time to start recording sightings of local biodiversity is during Great Southern Bioblitz. A bioblitz is a short period where people record the biodiversity present in an area. A network of citizen scientists started Great Southern Bioblitz in 2020 to increase biodiversity awareness. The event encourages citizen scientists to contribute to the understanding of where plants, animals and fungi occur throughout the Southern Hemisphere. Last year, people recorded more than 12,000 species across 12 countries.

“Bioblitzes can have great outcomes. Citizen scientists have discovered new species and recorded plants and animals in areas that they weren’t thought to occur. They’ve even found invasive species that we didn’t know were in the country,” said Erin.

The Atlas of Living Australia will make Australian sightings made during the event available for research, education and myriad other uses.

Great Southern Bioblitz events are happening all over the Southern Hemisphere from 22 to 25 October 2021.

Find an event near you.

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