5th Austrian #CitizenScience Conference – #CitSciNZ, Biodiversity monitoring & Co-design

One of the 6 working groups for the Austrian Citizen Science Network http://www.citizen-science.at/arbeitsgruppen

It’s not easy to categorise cit sci given the multi-disciplinary nature of many projects/programmes and the consequent diversity of outcomes sought. Out of sheer curiosity, however, I decided I would. Environmental projects are generally more common, but a growing amount of cit sci projects occur in other disciplines. A rough categorisation of #oesck2019 presentations (oral and poster) follows a similar pattern: biodiversity/environment (33%), tools and processes (23%), socio-cultural (13%), human health (6%). The category of ‘other’ was large (25%) partly explained by presentations investigating broader settings cit sci is situated within (e.g., policy, philosophy, funding).

Blog #1 (previous): Borders, Frontiers, #CitSci definitions & Benefits

Blog #3 (next): Funding, Open science, Socio-cultural #CitSci & Gamification

Day two began with my keynote on doing citizen science a bit differently in Aotearoa/New Zealand. I was warmly welcomed with a long introduction impressively rendered in te reo māori by Daniel Dörler from the Austrian Citizen Science Network. My aim was to showcase the unique historical, ecological, social and cultural dimensions that combined have shaped restoration and cit sci in NZ. There are notable differences to Austria:

  • NZ is a remote island – not part of a continent with porous political boundaries drawn and redrawn
  • Dramatic human-led land use change is measured in a few centuries – not millennia
  • Conservation centres on controlling/eradicating undesirable species – including some deliberately introduced from Europe
  • Biodiversity monitoring associated with grassroots ecological restoration is often community-led – not university or agency/institute led
  • There are important differences in how expressions of person/self (pepeha) are shared between indigenous and European NZ cultures
  • There are many synergies between indigenous knowledge (matauranga māori) and citizen science but each is grounded in a different worldview

Many of the challenges faced in NZ are not unique (e.g., the need to enhance the credibility of cit sci as a research method). The growth of Associations, Networks, Programmes and their outputs (e.g., best practice guides and strategic documents) provide an important foundation for #CitSciNZ.

Keynote delivered at #oecsk contrasting culture, community, ecology and #citizenscience across countries.

Facilitating biodiversity monitoring

A particularly European ecosystem (for a NZ’er), meadows, have declined majorly in extent since 1960 largely due to land use intensification – but they’re also biodiversity hot spots. The comprehensive Biodiversitätsmonitoring auf Wiesen project strives to simplify the science for farmers/landowners while still providing fit-for-purpose data – in this case to promote beneficial land management practices. An added component is basic evaluation of changes in perception and values resulting from participating in the project.

The Homegrown – There’s nothing like a home garden project centred on school children and local residents assessing the biodiversity of rural landowners’ home gardens in southern Tirol. Recognisable indicator species highlighted not only species diversity but made visible the various functions (e.g., as food or for decorative purposes) and services provided (pollination).

On the subject of ecosystem services, bumblebees (Bombus ssp.) form important indicators of ecological health but many species are also endangered in Austria. In the Hummelmeldeaktzion project (Austrian Nature Observation), crowdsourced photos were validated and helped update species distributions along with providing new sightings of species not seen for several decades. The role of the project coordinator as the connector between the public and science communities was emphasized.

Developing the Wildpark Grünau app., for the diverse park visitors meant selecting the right species as indicators i.e. those which were easily identified and already datasets which could be added to. One of the project coordinators, Didone Frigerio (University of Vienna) described how factors such as skewed data and statistical constraints (e.g., relating to weather and monitoring location bias) had to be addressed. She also highlighted the unanticipated challenge of understanding the communication/information needs of their diverse participants (i.e. farmers, school students and wider community members) – also raised in other #oecsk2019 presentations.

Gentians are among the first summer flowers to appear in the southern Tirol region

Maintaining the momentum of participants to collect phenological data (e.g., flowering and seeding times) for Naturekalendar was a focus of a presentation by Thomas Hübner (Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamic). He described how various methods were employed e.g., pulsing emails in tandem with user-identified needs. Expectations across different dimensions were also outlined: technical (e.g., tool functionality and user-friendliness; user-suggested improvements implemented), professional (e.g., research/project scope, boundaries and objectives clearly determined) and emotional (user competence acknowledged; rapid feedback provided and personalised communication).

Soil science with schools

To boost teachers’ appetite for science and locate ‘teacher champions’ Taru Sandén and Elena Kinz (AGES and TeaTime4Science) described how a series of hands-on soil science-related workshops were offered to schools. These included how to use tools (e.g., lysimeters and microscopes), understand soil life (e.g., worms’ ecological role) and the wider context for soil science (e.g., UN Sustainable Development Goals). The workshops also provided opportunities for inter-teacher exchange of knowledge and experience. Where attending in person was difficult, an online option was offered, and a coordinator designated to manage to digital participants. They described how challenges arose with their limited knowledge of the school curriculum, student motivation and learning outcomes. This led to a mismatch between coordinators’ expectations and proposed actions highlighting the need for adaptive approaches to cit sci project design and delivery.

The cowbell (as a culturally appropriate method!) was used to great effect for keeping presentations to time and generally herding particpants in to the right place at the right time.

Micro cit sci: surveying bacteria and eDNA

A novel project The Hidden World of Bacteria (funded through long-running Sparkling Science program) saw school students take water samples, culture them on a petri dish and analyse the results. The strong educational component used diverse means (including workshops, a Sparking Bacteria website, youtube videos) to build knowledge of what roles bacteria play in the environment. The project lead to the discovery of a new a genus of widespread freshwater bacteria in Austria.

A project titled Frog in a drop of water centred on eDNA monitoring of amphibians. In Austria, all 21 species of frogs and salamanders are red-listed, threatened by habitat loss/degradation and Chytrid fungus. Daniela Sint (Sinsoma GmbH) described how standard monitoring is challenging; amphibians are camouflaged, more active at night and in the Spring. In comparison, eDNA monitoring enabled results from a very small samples taken from many ponds. A pilot study aims to sample 100 small ponds using local knowledge of participants to locate ponds and provide some information on amphibian distribution and general trends. Media interest has resulted in successful engagement and eventual rollout across Austria is planned.

The most picturesque location for a #citsci conference with the theme of ‘Frontiers’

Co-design for citizen science

In the context of cit sci ‘co-design’ approaches can be used to harness participants’ expertise and needs for incorporation into the final project and/or research tool design. In the process, project transparency and equity among participants is promoted. Co-design approaches were used to design funding strategies with the German Ministry for the Environment and for developing a game-based tool for disadvantaged girls (see #oecsk2019 Blog 3). A key component of co-design is presenting processes and information in a way that resonates with participants. A series of case studies using co-design approaches was presented through PROVIDEDH (PROgressive Visual DEcision-Making in the Digital Humanities) and novel intergenerational approach to co-design was incorporated in the CitizenMorph project. Here, children worked alongside seniors and project coordinators to create a tool to map and monitor landscape dynamics and geomorphological events. The two age groups were chosen as they are both ‘critical and demanding when using mobile apps’.

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One response to “5th Austrian #CitizenScience Conference – #CitSciNZ, Biodiversity monitoring & Co-design

  1. Pingback: 5th Austrian #CitizenScience Conference – Funding, Open science, Socio-cultural #citsci & Gamification | monicalogues·

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