Be a citizen scientist in your own backyard
Have you heard birds chirping in your backyard today? Or spotted an array of bugs or plants in a local waterway? There are times when sharing these observations can be really useful to the scientific community such as during citizen science programs.
Citizen science is used to describe situations where the community contributes to scientific research. Often it’s as simple as community members taking a photo and noting some general observations about a specific species or during a set period of time. For example, during the annual Great Southern BioBlitz, the community is encouraged to record the living species they see over the course of set days during spring across the Southern Hemisphere – whether that be native flowers in South Australia, frogs in New Zealand or elephants in Zimbabwe.
Citizen science is often used as a way to undertake an intense biological survey, using the general community to submit data which allows for mass contributions. And contributing to scientific knowledge isn’t the only upside – it also helps to spread awareness of local biodiversity amongst the general community and engages the community in science.
The Waterwatch SA citizen science project has been running for more than 30 years to help us better understand local waterways.
The program includes regular water quality monitoring by volunteers, annual Waterbug Bioblitzes and a school program. It is currently actively collecting data in three landscape board regions – Hills and Fleurieu, Northern and Yorke, and Murraylands and Riverland.
Why is this water monitoring program important?
The data gathered from community observations are used to:
• inform local water allocation policies
• report on the state of the environment
• introduce school students to catchment management and monitoring
• provide evidence for grassroots concerns such as the impacts of local development on water quality.
And it’s these types of benefits that are leading to ever-increasing interest in citizen science programs from scientists and the community.
Citizen science discoveries
There’s been some amazing scientific discoveries thanks to community input. Just earlier this year, Queensland high school students discovered a previously unidentified insect – a new wasp species; and South Australian schools involved in the same Insect Investigators program are also now in the process of naming new species of wasps and flies!
The value of citizen science for our younger generations is not going unnoticed either with the Oliphant Science Awards for school students including a citizen science category for the first time. Chair of the SA Chapter of the Australian Citizen Science Association and competition judge, Sylvia Clarke, says the entries have highlighted how student involvement in citizen science has increased their interest in science as well as awareness of local environmental issues.
How can you get involved in citizen science?
No matter where you are located, you can get involved in a range of citizen science projects. Here’s a few that landscape boards can recommend:
• Marine Debris
• Wild Orchid Watch
• Great Southern BioBlitz (Nov 24-27 in 2023)
• Goanna Watch
• Frogwatch SA
• Dragon Search SA
• iNaturalist to enter a broad range of species or data sets
• 1 Million Turtles
Many of our landscape boards also have active citizen science programs or run special events at times.
The Eyre Peninsula Landscape Board has continuous citizen science programs, asking the community to contribute sightings of goannas, koalas, iconic birds, echidnas and malleefowl.
They also have a king tides project in which they seek community reports during the region’s six highest tide events during the year. In addition, they have a unique Pix Stix project that monitors environmental changes at set points such as along the Arno Bay mangrove boardwalk.
Hills and Fleurieu
Community driven Waterbug Bioblitzes are making waves in creek line conservation in the Adelaide Hills and Fleurieu region. This initiative aims to record as many species as possible within a designated location and timeframe, focusing on the invaluable role of macroinvertebrates (waterbugs) as powerful indicators of water health.
The Angas-Finniss and Bremer River bioblitzes are held in the Hills and Fleurieu region, but there are six others across the state! Keep an eye out for a round of bioblitzes across the Hills and Fleurieu in spring.
Prior knowledge is not a requirement for joining the Waterbug Bioblitz. Expert staff and scientists provide on-site training and guidance to ensure the accuracy and consistency of the collected data. This data serves as a valuable resource, guiding conservation efforts and facilitating evidence-based decision making across the state.
Murraylands and Riverland
The Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board is involved with a broad range of citizen science projects primed for community involvement. Projects like Waterwatch, Find Our Fungi, 1 Million Turtles, Malleefowl Monitoring and Frogwatch SA are continuous, and people can join at any time.
Camera trap images from Malleefowl Monitoring are also uploaded to DigiVol for citizen science interaction from the comfort of your home, wherever that may be.
Some programs are run annually like the Marne and Saunders Waterbug Bioblitz and the Mallee Bioblitz at Yookamurra.
This year, the board will also be involved in the roll out of the Great Australian Wildlife Search through the SA Murray-Darling Basin, starting in spring. This environmental DNA citizen science project is managed by Odonata with support from the MDBA and will help the board locate those harder to find aquatic animals in its waterways.
Northern and Yorke
The Northern and Yorke Landscape Board welcomes support from the community for its Marna Banggara project, which aims to restore southern Yorke Peninsula’s spectacular landscape by returning locally extinct species. Citizen scientists can help review remote camera images, take part in malleefowl monitoring and also join BirdLife Australia’s National Shorebird Monitoring and Beach-nesting Birds program.
SA Arid Lands
Several pastoralists in the SA Arid Lands region have been paying close attention to cow dung in the search for native dung beetles. The small beetles are known to play an important role in building soil organic matter in grazing businesses and through citizen science the pastoral community is trying to work out how effective they are in low rainfall regions.
Pastoralists have been opportunistically collecting beetle samples to gain a better understanding of soil health and management in the rangelands, with samples provided to dung beetle expert Bern Doube. And there have been some surprises.
Bern identified five species of dung beetle including a native beetle not commonly seen in cattle dung. The identification process also revealed some of the amazing inter-relationships occurring at a minute scale in the insect world. Many of the beetles identified revealed tiny mites, which live on and with the beetles in a symbiotic relationship.
Pastoralists in the area can find out how they can be involved by contacting the SAAL Landscape Board.
In a different region?
Our other landscape boards may also have citizen science opportunities arise. Keep an eye on their websites and social media:
Want more inspiration to get involved?
Watch how the community has been involved in the Hills Fleurieu BioBlitz.
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