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Citizen science to boost existing bushfire recovery activities

The Atlas of Living Australia has entered into a new partnership with the Department of Agriculture Water and Environment to coordinate three new citizen science bushfire projects. The projects are supported by the Australian Government’s $200 million Bushfire Recovery for Wildlife and their Habitats.

The three new projects will support fire-affected communities to re-engage with nature and the science of recovery.

Projects include:

  • Bioblitzes: organising a series of BioBlitzes in fire affected areas throughout the spring and autumn of 2021-22,
  • Priority insect digitisation: prioritising insect digitisation and transcription based on a list of priority insect species post fire, and
  • Flora connections: developing a series of resources to enable active flora groups to monitor and record information post fire.

Our partners to deliver these projects include: The Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW; Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University; the Australian Citizen Science Association; Minderoo’s Fire and Flood Resilience initiative and the National Research Collections Australia.

BioBlitzes

Waterbug Survey at Panboola Bioblitz (16-17 May 2014) ©  Atlas of Life

A series of BioBlitz events are being coordinated in northern NSW, the Blue Mountains and NSW south coast to generate new evidence on the impacts of large-scale fire on biodiversity, and to support fire-affected communities to re-engage with nature and the science of recovery.

A ‘BioBlitz’ is a concerted effort to discover and record as many living things as possible within a set location over a limited time period – usually 24 to 36 hours.

This project is a partnership with the UNSW’s Centre for Ecosystem Science and will leverage the citizen science data collected to date from the Environment Recovery Project.

The aim of Bioblitz is:

  • to increase collaboration and knowledge sharing between the public and scientists;
  • collect valuable data and information about species present on the day;
  • compare and contrast burnt areas with un-burnt areas and
  • align the new information with existing environment recovery surveys.

The BioBlitz events will be evenly spread between burnt and unburnt areas using a paired design sampling approach along the fire boundary. These events would involve both scientists and the general public. More details (including how you can sign up to participate) will be posted as the dates and locations are set.

Priority insect digitisation

Digitising insects from National Research Collections Australia.

This project will help expand our understanding of invertebrates by digitising some of the invertebrate species found in the National Research Collections Australia facility.

The digitised information is being made available on the Atlas of Living Australia where it can be used by anyone with an interest, from taxonomists to conservation practitioners. It represents a permanent record of the occurrence of a species at a particular time and place.

Digitisation of invertebrates is being prioritised based on a list, provided by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, of invertebrate species of concern, post the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires.

We are capturing high resolution images of between 5000 and 6000 specimens and loading them onto the Atlas of Living Australia DigiVol platform. On the DigiVol platform, we will be asking for your help to transcribe the label data held with each specimen from the loaded images.

Citizen scientists have already transcribed one batch of images this year, which you can read about in our story, Support bushfire science from home.

Through transcribing the label data held with each specimen, you are making a significant contribution towards improving our understanding of historic insect distribution and abundance in Australia.

Flora Connections

Flora connections is working to make it easier for citizen scientists to document how plants regenerate after fire. ©  Peter Brenton, Atlas of Living Australia

This project is working in partnership with Western Sydney University to develop resources to support experienced citizen scientists to document how Australia’s unique plants recover from fire.

It will draw on volunteer, active amateur botanists who have a strong connection to the plants in their local area. They will be asked to monitor how plants are recovering from fire and generate new data by documenting active threats to the recovering ecosystems.   

Monitoring will involve photography of resprouting tissue such as epicormic shooting, basal resprouting, seedling growth, and flowering. Documenting will require standardised recording of population abundance and active threats present at survey sites.

This project will improve the connections among the large network of volunteer amateur botanists working across the country and the data collected will be available to scientists involved in national research initiatives in plant science. We’ll post more information and resources about this project as they are developed.

Below is a list of other citizen science projects that may interest you.

Eye on Water Australia

Water colour is a very informative indicator of the ecological state of marine and fresh-waters.

Water colour is a very informative indicator of the ecological state of marine and fresh-waters. Until recently, it has only been measurable with specialist scientific instruments.

Eye on Water Australia uses citizen sourced data to create a big picture of global water quality. By simply snapping a photo of the water, uploading it to the mobile app and comparing it to a colour chart, citizen scientists can help researchers monitor changes to Australian waters such as algae blooms, seasonal changes and sediment.

EyeonWater Australia - biocollect.ala.org.au

Ant Mimicry

Australian velvet ant ©  CSIRO, Olivia Evangelista

Developed by CSIRO’s Australian National Insect Collection, the online Mimicry in Australian velvet ants game to investigate the patterns that result from the evolution of Müllerian mimicry in velvet ants. In this mimicry game, players take on the role of a predator, such as an insectivorous bird.

Acting as a predator, citizen scientists are required to identify similarities between two images. This study builds on previous work by CSIRO’s digitisation team and citizen scientists to image more than 5000 velvet ant specimens in the Australian National Insect Collection and transcribe the label data for each specimen using DigiVol.

Velvet ant mimicry - biocollect.ala.org.au

Checking for Change

Checking for Change is a guide to check whether land being managed for biodiversity is on track to improve in condition.

Developed by CSIRO, Checking for Change is the first comprehensive but easy to use practical guide for non-experts to check whether land  being managed for biodiversity (native plants, wildlife and soils) are on track to improve in environmental condition. It can complement more detailed, longer term environmental monitoring methods and allow individual land managers, schools and communities  to participate in monitoring.

The Checking for Change approach will assist environmental monitoring of real biodiversity outcomes so that land managers can quickly find out whether they are on track to improve their biodiversity or need to keep experimenting with their management.

Many of the indicators are common components of longer-term monitoring approaches but  the information collected has been modified to make it simpler and easier for ‘citizen scientists’.

Checking for Change - biocollect.ala.org.au

AirRater

Run by the University of Tasmania, the AirRater app monitors air quality, temperature and pollen levels and allows users to track physical symptoms, such as sneezing, itchy eyes and shortness of breath. AirRater combines the symptoms the user has entered with the environmental conditions at the time to build a picture of potential environmental triggers. In addition, app users can report their health symptoms as well as the presence of smoke during bushfires to measure the impact of smoke events on people with asthma. These data can be used to support community-wide air pollution health advisories, heatwave forecasting and alerts, and fire weather mapping to assist firefighters, landowners and government.

Update to AirRater app launched on 1 November, 2021.

You can read the media release, "Can you see or smell smoke? New tools harness citizen science to reduce the impacts of bushfire smoke on our communities", to find out about the new feature of the popular AirRater smartphone app, developed by the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research.

AirRater App for Asthma health - biocollect.ala.org.au

Critterpedia

Critterpedia aims to provide education and awareness for all Australians. ©  Critterpedia

The tool allows users to take photos of a snake or spider from their smart device. A system trained with an algorithm then classifies it, providing information on the family, genus or species. The artificially intelligent (AI) platform considers not only these images, but also additional information, like GPS location.

The application aims to provide education and awareness for all Australians. And, as a wildlife safety tool, could ultimately save human and animal lives.

Critterpedia

Cinder

Cinder allows users to monitor thousands of experiments set up by structural biologists that hope to grow crystals. Less than 5% of the experiments successfully grow crystals, so to find them every experiment needs to be observed many times over the course of weeks. Cinder provides users with images of these experiments, asking that when a crystal is spotted, they simply swipe right. This tool helps scientists learn what protein crystallisation experiments look like, and ultimately help to develop a completely reliable AI package that can find crystals in images.

Cinder "Crystallographic Tinder" - biocollect.ala.org.au

The GLOBE Program

The GLOBE Program

CSIRO in collaboration with the Australian Space Agency are managing the NASA sponsored GLOBE Program in Australia. GLOBE’s Vision is to create A worldwide community of students, teachers, scientists, and citizens working together to better understand, sustain, and improve Earth’s environment at local, regional, and global scales. GLOBE provides several ways users can engage with the program. The two most popular options include - The GLOBE Program and GLOBE Observer app.

The GLOBE Program gives teachers and educators full access to the program including eTraining, teacher guides and classroom activities. Data collection is focused on four Earth spheres, Atmosphere, Hydrosphere, Biosphere and the Pedosphere (soil).

The Globe Observer app currently includes four main tools: Clouds, Mosquito Habitat Mapper, Land Cover and Trees. Data and images collected through the GLOBE Program and the GLOBE Observer help scientists track changes in the Earth’s environment.

GLOBE Observer, Trees - biocollect.ala.org.au

Global Plastic Pollution monitoring

CSIRO has developed an online national marine debris database where you can contribute data you collect about litter at your local beach. Together, we can contribute to the improved understanding of the types, amounts and sources of debris that arrives on Australia’s coastline.

CSIRO National Marine Debris Portal

We’re also integrating it into initiatives around the world such as Earth Challenge 2020. Users can upload images of pollution to the free Earth Challenge 2020 app. These images will feed into a global database to provide scientists and global governing bodies with information on all things rubbish. This data includes where it’s found, the different types, and how much there is. The Earth Challenge 2020 project will build on our research analysing what rubbish there is on land versus the seafloor. It will inform future research projects and assist local authorities to develop targeted waste management strategies. All to reduce the impact of pollution on the environment. The Earth Challenge 2020 app will expand our datasets to paint a picture of the plastic pollution problem worldwide.

EARTH CHALLENGE 2020

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