Our Say: Let’s stop and smell the roses

By Julia Barnes
Outreach Educator

Did you know, that despite not having noses, male moths can detect a female’s scent from up to 11 kilometres away using their antennae?

How amazing the world around us is! I am a self-confessed “Earth-nerd”. I love learning of the different ways that species can connect with each other, how our bodies work and how eco-systems function. However despite my keen interest, with the business of everyday life I often find myself walking hurriedly past gardens, trees, and patches of grass, unbeknownst to the diversity of interactions surrounding me. Sound familiar?

In addition to being great for you mentally and spiritually, it’s amazing what we can learn from our environment when we take some time to absorb and question the scents, sounds and movements around us. When we do allow this extra moment, the earth can become a fascinating and magical place. (Image right: Charles Darwin Statue in Shrewsbury, United Kingdom)

Earlier this year, I was privileged to represent CERES Outreach on a two week intensive scholarship program in the United Kingdom. Hosted by the Field Studies Council in August, the ‘Darwin Scholars Program’ brought together conservationists, scientists and educators from around the globe to explore biodiversity monitoring methods and to develop new tools for engaging the public with the species around us. Of my experiences, I was very taken by our behind-the-scenes visit to the London National History Museum, where we explored some of the earliest Australian herbarium records, specimens and drawings – all compiled into elaborate leather bound archives.

While monitoring and recording our biodiversity (the variety of life on Earth) has traditionally been the work of museums, herbaria, universities and government organisations, these days every one of us has the opportunity to take an active role within the community to monitor species populations and conserve our rich natural heritage. Let’s take a brief look into biodiversity monitoring, how we can all get involved and why it makes for such a rich experience.

(Images above: 1 – Darwin Scholars monitoring freshwater macroinvertebrate populations. 2 – The ‘Sloane’ Collection at the London National History Museum)

Why get involved?

Keeping tabs on what’s happening in nature can be a pretty useful venture, providing the opportunity to:

  • Discover new species: If we don’t know what we have, we can’t protect it, or for some of you, this might mean learning of new species to avoid (for those readers who are particularly fond of spiders, 13 new species of spider were discovered in Australia this year alone – Uh oh!).
  • Assess the ecological sustainability of sites and activities: For example, the presence of different macroinvertebrates (organisms without a backbone that can be seen with the naked eye) can be used as a biological indicator of stream health or pollution.
  • Understand how to build ecosystem resistance and/or protect species: For example, learning how to protect Australia’s reef systems from the Crown of Thorns Starfish.
  • Understand how the abundance of a species has changed over time: This allows us to react in preservation and to provide resilience, as well as predict and prevent future scenarios. For example, the Rothamsted Insect Survey, run by volunteers in the UK has generated data on moth populations since the 1930s, tracking the decline and migration of many species.
  • Learn from nature to improve our own living efficiencies (biomimicry and medicines): For example, in Japan, the 500-series bullet train now travels 10% faster, uses 15% less electricity and is a lot quieter, all as a result of being redesigned to mimic the beak of a kingfisher.

(Image above: Photograph by Fugle and Farver, sourced from The Internet Bird Collection,http://ibc.lynxeds.com/)

So how do I get involved?

Getting involved in a monitoring study is a great way to connect with the Earth, find your own value in conservation and take personal action to make the world a better place. Here’s a shortlist of just some of the ways that you can get started…

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”— Albert Einstein

Depending on the type of species we are observing, monitoring can involve some pretty clever and species specific techniques, such as auditing, trapping, surveying and mapping – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be simple too. Monitoring our biodiversity can also be as humble as sitting still and quietly in the one place, and recording what you see, hear and feel. In fact, this kind of self-discovery can be just as rich and fulfilling as the most detailed of biodiversity audits, and the observations of a child can be just as vital as those of a trained scientist. Take for example the story of the twelve-year old Robert Beeton, who last year, while conducting a ‘BioBlitz’ in Tasmania’s central highlands discovered a whole new spider genus!

(Image above: A fellow Darwin Scholars Participant, Vasiliki Kioupi and me (on the right) discovering a flower we hadn’t seen before)

Record what you see
It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that the observations you are making and the data you are collecting has a purpose and impact, contributing to greater environmental understanding. Recording your monitoring observations through citizen science (the involvement of volunteers in science) enables them to be a valued source of information and can greatly enhance the depth of data available on scientific databases. The Atlas of Living Australia provides free, online access to information, records and education resources about Australia’s amazing biodiversity, is a great way to learn about the species in your local area and provides many different citizen science projects available to get involved in. For example, last week I participated in the ‘Great Aussie Bird Count‘, a national initiative to discover how our birds are getting on. The goal was to spend 20 minutes outside, listening to birds, observing and recording using a computer or a phone app. It was an enriching experience engaging with the different species living in my back garden. I learnt the source of a call that I’ve been hearing of a morning belonged to a honeyeater. You can check out your own local citizen science projects through The Atlas of Living Australia Citizen Science Project Finder here.

(Images above: 1 – Julia and Darwin Scholars Participant, Cisel Kemahli observing and recording invertebrate sightings. 2 – Meeting Randal Keynes, great, great grandson of Charles Darwin with a copy of Darwin’s book ‘The Origin of Species’. This book sold out on the day it was published in 1859 and since then, has been through six English editions, numerous translations and has never been out of print)

Share your story
The way that we communicate our monitoring experiences with others is important. Sharing our stories and celebrating biodiversity allows us to engage others with the value of conservation. Research conducted by The Common Cause outlines that by fostering “intrinsic” values with our first hand experiences, our messaging, communication and actions (such as self-acceptance, care for others, and concern for the natural world), we can heighten these values in others and encourage them to also take part. Artistic signage of local species, animal festivals (such as CERES’ Sacred Kingfisher Festival), observation tally boards to which locals can add their own species sightings, and the display of photos or murals of local wildlife in public spaces are just a few ideas of ways we can positively celebrate the species that are occurring in our local areas.

Empowering ourselves with biological awareness, fostering our own inspiration and connections through hands on experiences with biological monitoring and recording, and sharing our understanding and experiences with others will be imperative for species conservation and a more sustainable future. This week, I challenge you to take a moment to re-connect yourself with your surroundings and the species living within. Whether it’s your backyard, your school oval, or the park down the road – take a moment to wonder, you never know what you might find!


Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy – Summary

The Australian Guide to Running a BioBlitz-

Household Vinegar Advances the Fight Against Crown of Thorns Starfish Threat on Great Barrier Reef

Rothamsted Insect Survey

Spiders alive! Thirteen new species discovered in Queensland

The Biomimicry Story, Shinknsen Train

Twelve-year-old-discovers new-spider-genus

By CERES Education – Outreach Team|2017-11-06T18:29:42+10:00November 16th, 2015|0 Comments