Gardeners, walkers and citizen scientists join the quest for data on nature
Many gardeners carefully observe the seasons, observing the life cycle of plants and animals for a sign of the sequel and meticulously recording their findings.
Today, in the age of heightened awareness of climate change, these observations are becoming useful.
John Ditchburn started his garden in 1989, behind an old wooden plank house on exceptionally large land that was once a miner’s lease near the center of Ballarat.
“I understood very quickly [the block] was probably too big – it wasn’t the space that was the problem, it was the weather, ”said Ditchburn.
And over the decades, gardening has eaten up its time. He grows vegetables and fruit trees, raises chooks, raises fish and tends his compost pile.
He has also spent years creating and updating market gardening guides specific to the region.
When he started his guides, he interviewed older gardeners in his neighborhood and began to keep records.
These days, his Exel spreadsheets record the varieties and times he plants vegetables in the garden or greenhouse, the beds he plants things in, major weather events, frosts, precipitation and results. of the harvest.
This is the kind of longitudinal data that excites scientists.
Mr Ditchburn believes that some of the changes he has observed in his garden can be attributed to climate change.
In the early 1990s, Mr. Ditchburn was planting lettuce in the summer with no problems, but for the past 10 years, he says, the heat has been too intense. Now he grows them under shade cloth.
He expected the first asparagus heads to emerge from the mulch in early September. Last year the first asparagus arrived in mid-August, while this year the first arrived on August 1.
Go down to the micro level
Other changes that Mr. Ditchburn has observed are, according to him, environmental – the arrival of birds thanks to the planting of trees in the neighborhood, and the appearance of spiders and stick insects probably due to the changes in the countryside.
Denis Crawford, an entomologist based near the Grampians (Gariwerd) in western Victoria, has spent years researching how to increase insect populations in backyard gardens.
Gardens are important habitats for insects and most of them are not pests, he says.
“It gives you a little more appreciation of what’s going on in natural ecosystems if you’re interested in your own backyard,” Crawford said.
But understanding why garden insect populations are changing is complex.
Landscaping, weather, even a change in the number of perennials can have a major impact.
Mr Crawford says data is not available to categorically attribute changes or losses to climate change.
“In the Australian context, there are very few long-term studies on insect populations, and most long-term studies tend to focus on agricultural pests,” he says.
The quest for data
In Melbourne, a project to involve citizen scientists in collecting massive data to understand how changes in temperature and precipitation affect the behavior of plants and animals has been underway for more than a decade.
Climate Watch encourages people to download a free app and record sightings and information on selected plant and animal species.
Program coordinator Luke Richards said the Climate Watch team checks the data to make sure animals and plants have been correctly identified before forwarding them to the Atlas of Living Australia, the larger set of Australian biodiversity data.
For Richards, the breadth of questions scientists are trying to answer makes it necessary to involve citizen scientists.
He also hopes the app can help people engage with the natural world and feel like part of the solution.
The natural world doesn’t have to be a remote national park, he says, it can be the jacaranda on your street or the magpie – two of the 180 indicator species that Climate Watch tracks.
Users of the app are encouraged to submit multiple entries on the species living around them and look at them over time to add to the “scientific robustness” of the data.
While the technology may be new, observing nature is something natural, says Richards.