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By Andrea Wild 23 August 2021 2 min read

After the Australian bushfires during 2019 and 2020, many of you asked how you could help Australia’s plants and animal species recover. Becoming a citizen scientist is a great way to help.

Now you can head online to help digitise insect specimens from our National Research Collections Australia. This is certainly the perfect project for people in lockdown to participate in citizen science.

The results will help us understand historic distributions and abundance of priority insect species. This will then help researchers understand the impacts of bushfires on present-day insect populations.

Flies, mayflies, caddisflies, bugs, butterflies and more

Australia is home to a vast number of endemic insect species. Insects perform important roles, such as breaking down waste, cycling nutrients and pollinating crops. But most of these miniature ecosystem engineers remain poorly understood. As a result, it is difficult to know how well insect populations are recovering after bushfires.

“The Australian Government has prioritised a number of insect species for urgent assessment,” said Nicole Fisher, who is the Digital Operations team leader at our National Research Collections Australia.

We have at least 5000 specimens of these insect species in the Australian National Insect Collection at CSIRO. We've taken high-resolution photos of the specimens, thus now we need citizen scientists to transcribe the specimen labels.

“This will make the data instantly available for research. It includes insects that are nearly 100 years old from our collections and so this is a great way for the public to glimpse this hidden world,” said Nicole.

Records of our nation’s biodiversity

The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) will host the data provided by citizen scientists and make it available. It’s a website that brings together Australia’s biodiversity data for the purpose of making it available for research and discovery.

“Many of the priority insect species don’t have any digital records in the ALA. This is the gap that citizen scientists can help bridge,” said Citizen Science Program Lead Dr Erin Roger.

“Making specimen data available will support studies of bush fire impacts on insects. It will be of huge value,” said Erin.

Responding to bushfires

Understanding impacts on our insect populations is one way we use science to study bushfires. It contributes to broader work including fire prediction, modelling and resilience.

“Responding to national disasters like bushfires takes a community-wide effort. It’s great that technology can create opportunities for everyone to play a part, even from home in lockdown,” said Erin.

This project is one of three citizen science projects to receive funding under the Australian Government’s $200 million Bushfire Recovery Program for wildlife and their habitats. The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), a National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy facility hosted by CSIRO, is coordinating the projects. All images will be transcribed using the Australian Museum’s DigiVol Platform.

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