Citizen scientists get snappy to monitor bushfire-ravaged environment

Burnt gully

Citizen scientists are being encouraged to photograph bushfire-affected areas to help UNSW Sydney researchers track the recovery of flora and fauna after the fires.

Forget Instagram – UNSW Sydney researchers are urging citizen scientists to use their mobile phones for a good cause: to monitor the recovery of bushfire-affected plants and animals for the Environment Recovery Project which will inform future research.

Anyone in fire-affected areas of Australia can participate, no matter their scientific knowledge or camera skills: all people need to do is download the mobile app – available via the global citizen science iNaturalist website – take a photo of a burnt tree, for example, and upload the image to the app.

The iNaturalist community has more than 31 million biodiversity records and links to Australia’s leading citizen science platform Atlas of Living Australia where everybody from scientists and policy makers to the general public can access a wealth of biodiversity information.

Casey Kirchhoff, PhD candidate at the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science, founded the Environment Recovery Project after the devastating Southern Highlands’ Morton bushfire destroyed her Wingello home early this month.

Mrs Kirchhoff is determined to rebuild, but her passion for the environment and natural curiosity inspired her to start tracking the post-fire recovery of her surrounding environment, despite her loss.

“I realised I was probably among a handful of scientists collecting this information. So, I thought, why not ask citizen scientists to share their photos? The bushfires have burnt such a large area; it’s impossible to properly survey it with our current resources,” she said.

“The more observations we can collect, the more we will know about the impact of the fires on our environment – particularly in the major bushfire areas in southeastern Australia and right up to Queensland.

“We also need hope when so many of us have lost so much – while we rebuild our home, I look forward to seeing the recovery of the bush with the help of citizen scientists. This is another way people can contribute to post-bushfire efforts.”

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