Citizen ScienceCitizen-scientists monitor biodiversity in Queensland's extensive Nature Refuge network
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SPECIES SPOTTING TO SUPPORT NATURE
Nature refuges account for most of Queensland’s conservation network, but committed landholders have few resources for understanding and monitoring biodiversity values on their reserves. Simultaneously, eager citizen scientists and tertiary students want locations to practice their skills that have real world applications.
Through this exciting project, the Queensland Trust for Nature (QTFN) will foster collaborations between the Ecology Centre (The University of Queensland), environmental community groups, nature refuge landholders and their adjacent communities to solve this problem and fill our knowledge gaps concerning biodiversity values on private land.
Over four weekends a year for three years, citizen scientists will collect data focusing on key themes of plants, invertebrates, mammals and birds. QTFN will develop a system that utilises freely available citizen science phone apps (Cybertracker) to streamline data acquisition and collation, and use this data to inform reports and management plans tailored for each participating Nature Refuge.
In its first year, this project will pilot on QTFN’s Aroona Reserve. In subsequent years, Nature Refuge landholders can apply and to have the project rolled out on their reserves, extending the program to two additional Nature Refuges within this grant (one each year). At its close, it will present a scalable program ready to be continued across Nature Refuges throughout Queensland.
CAMPOUTS IN NATURE
Every year we will hold four campouts on a single Nature Refuge, sharing experiences, learning about biodiversity and helping the landholder document the values on their special piece of land. Each camp focusses on a different element of biodiversity: invertebrates, mammals, birds and plants.
BugCatch – Small things like insects, snails and crustaceans are the most numerous animals on our planet and provide a range of ecological services. In this event we will learn about threatened invertebrates, get hands on experience in how we study invertebrates, and help make an inventory of species and functional groups on our focal refuge.
MammalMuster – Everyone loves a fuzzy mammal, but they can be hard to keep a count of. Come learn from QTFN how we sample for a range of threatened and common native mammal species. Citizen scientists will participate in guided spotlighting walks, koala scat survey, and review camera trap photographs to learn from mammal experts about what species we expect to find and why.
BirdBivouac – Avid birdwatchers will compete for the longest list of birds seen on location, with each team composed of expert birdwatchers and amateur citizen scientists. Learn how to do standardized bird surveys and help up identify birds from pre-recorded calls. Participants will be given a bespoke bird-counting phone application and surveyors will target a range of habitats.
PlantCamp – Tour the different habitat types on our focal refuge with a plant-expert guided walk, collecting and identifying as many plant species as we can. Learn about plants, how we identify them and their special adaptations to their environment. If applicable, the camp will end with a tree planting event.
FOSTER CONNECTION – this project will bring community, academia and conservation workers together to share science skills and lived experiences to better our knowledge of biodiversity. Our past camps show that multi-day events where we work together on a target property for an applied cause fosters skill sharing, casual conversations and knowledge sharing across disciplinary boundaries.
FILL GAPS – better our knowledge of Queensland’s biodiversity in four different groups of organisms including targeted rigorous and professional surveys. Data will be expert verified, collated and analysed by professional ecologists and summarised into useful ecological reports for participants and landholders. This project will result in professional-standard surveys of a nature refuge each year; a task otherwise impossible for a landholder to achieve.
DATA SYSTEMS – standardize and streamline the collection, storage and analysis of this data so that non-scientists can participate but QTFN can analyse in order to inform future management of nature refuges. An essential outcome from this project will be a work-plan that sees data input in a standardized format across the four events. Smartphone interfaces will be designed by QTFN for data entry, and QTFN will develop an environmental accounting framework that will form a vital element of each final report.
SCALE AND ROLLOUT – finish with a scalable, repeatable, efficient and professional project with recordable outcomes and links to existing environmental frameworks, ready for expansion to nature refuges throughout Queensland. At the end of the three-year period, this project will have completed the program on three properties, provided a report for each year plus a lesson-learning document for its future deployment, packaging up all user-interfaces and reporting frameworks for future works.
SCIENTISTS FUTURE AND PRESENT – the Ecology Centre at the University of Queensland is investing in supporting these camps to expand the experience and community of its ecology students, camps link directly into taught undergraduate courses (e.g. Plant ID, Insect Biodiversity).
COMMUNITY ENVIRONMENT GROUPS & SOCIETIES – in each theme, an established environmental group are brought on as partners in the running of activities. The pilot project has already worked with the Entomological Society of Queensland (invertebrates) and staff from the Queensland Herbarium.
LOCAL COMMUNITIES – all activities are advertised to the wider community through connections with local landholders and local councils. The pilot project currently involves the Ipswich and Scenic Rim councils and the broader community through the Little Liverpool Range Initiative.
NATURE REFUGE LANDHOLDERS – by applying for and participating in this program, each nature refuge landholder gets hands on experience in how data can be collected to inform their management, how science can help them manage their nature refuge, and will be given a property-specific report and all the data applications for their ongoing management.