School of Ants citizen science workshops contribute to biodiversity knowledge and inspire action

The last weekend in February was full of brain exploding ideas, networking and contributions to citizen science projects for 40 participants of the School of Ants professional development workshops at the University of Melbourne. Two single day workshops focused on empowering educators, scientists and practitioners to embed citizen science into their classrooms and embrace participation in the scientific process as a powerful way of learning science.

Workshop computer with Ken

University of New England’s Dr Kirsti Abbott, supported by HEPP funds through UNE and the University of Melbourne, traveled around Australia in 2015, taking the School of Ants project to rural, remote and regional schools and festivals. Students were immersed in full day’s educational experience about ants each month. On the same day each month for ten months, 25 registered participants offered to ants a picnic of deli frankfurts, Scotch finger biscuits and sugar solution in an effort to document the diversity, distribution and diet of dominant ground foraging ants in and around our homes in urban Australia. Citizens participating in the 2015 project also aided in the collection of large, powerful data sets, while being inspired to retain their curiosity and use science to help answer questions they have about their world.

The recent workshops came at the end of the yearlong synchronous science project, and harnessed Dr Abbott and other’s experience in how simple, low tech citizen science projects can enhance our understanding of biodiversity in Australia. Joining Dr Abbott to facilitate the February workshops, and share their insight and expertise in the public science space, were entomologist Dr Ken Walker from the Melbourne Museum, science communicator Dr Jen Martin from the University of Melbourne & Espresso Science, science educator Dr George Aranda from Deakin University & ScienceBookADay, and Dr Amy Rogers from the City of Melbourne who co-coordinates the biodiversity strategy there and is coordinating the Melbourne BioBlitz this weekend.

Workshop presenters with George

During the workshops participants contributed to the School of Ants and Bowerbird, an online repository for Australia’s biodiversity, as well as projects in the Zooniverse portfolio. One participant from Parks Victoria uploaded a photograph of a small black and white moth to our new University of Melbourne Bowerbird project during the workshop.  It has since been identified as the second only record of the genus Scoparia in Victoria – a significant addition to our understanding of the range and biodiversity of this moth genus.  In addition, some great photos of Pheidole spp. on our School of Ants collections made their way to Bowerbird too. This, and other contributions made at the workshops inspired attendees to act on simple observations, and shows how easy it is for citizen science to make a real contribution to Australia’s knowledge of our Biodiversity.

Bowerbird collage ants and moth

One of the big messages of the day was to get scientific bang for your observational or photographic buck by including Darwin Core information with your photos. Better yet, upload them to a site like Bowerbird or Atlas of Living Australia and contribute directly to our understanding of biodiversity we share our nation with.

The feedback from workshops are evidence that inspiring the right people at the right time creates action:

“Thanks so much for a fantastic day Kirsti.  The presenters were wonderful and very informative.  I have come away with some fantastic ideas that I am going to try to implement with my classes as soon as I can.”

“Thank you for arranging an inspirational PD about Citizen Science. I’ve started a Bowerbird project in our environment centre. I have also ordered books suggested by George (The Squid, the Vibrio and the Moon) to prompt the pre-schoolers to think about relationships between organisms. We are going to do a little study of the organisms in the environment centre. It will be interesting to see what the young ones come up with.”

 


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