Using citizen science to monitor climate change impacts in Western Sydney
1 October 2018
The Earthwatch Institute is a non-profit environmental organisation that enables people to help build the scientific knowledge that is necessary to understand and manage key environmental issues such as climate change. Our natural world is being impacted by climate change in many ways, including the timing of seasonal life cycle events, such as nesting, flowering, hibernation and migration (Parmesan & Yohe, 2003). The timing of these events in nature and how they relate to climate is a field of science called phenology.
Changes in phenology have the capacity to alter species interactions and have wide-reaching implications across ecosystems. For example, earlier snow melt is causing the Mountain Pygmy Possum to emerge from its winter hibernation earlier, however its primary food source - the Bogong moth – is arriving later. This seasonal mismatch has been found to contribute to the decline of the Mountain Pygmy Possum, an iconic and endangered species of New South Wales and Victoria. Another example can be found in North Central Victoria, where a long-term study of Red Ironbark has indicated that an increase in failed flowering events has likely contributed to the declines in the number of woodland birds found in that forest. These two examples illustrate how shifting phenology can have cascading consequences in nature and why monitoring biodiversity is of key importance to Earthwatch and its team of scientists.
A new partnership
Earthwatch and The Cumberland Land Conservancy (CLC) are delighted to announce a new partnership that will enable Western Sydney residents to monitor phenology and biodiversity changes over time through a novel citizen science programme called ClimateWatch. ClimateWatch is an app-based initiative developed by the Earthwatch Institute that strives to mobilise the general public to observe seasonal changes and monitor indicator species in their local areas. The programme allows users to input data into a central database using the free ClimateWatch mobile app or website, and then the data is validated and submitted to the Atlas of Living Australia. From here, phenology and species location records are made publicly available for research institutes and agencies to utilise and inform management plans and climate adaptation strategies. It is also a proven educational tool:
“Teachers are using the ClimateWatch app to take climate change and biodiversity lessons outside, immersing their classes in nature and monitoring their local plants and animals. Students are recording and learning about what they see in the natural world and contributing to real-world science while doing it,” says Nadiah Roslan, ClimateWatch Programme manager.
CLC is a volunteer operated not-for-profit charity dedicated to acquiring and managing land for conservation. The charity operates principally on the ‘Cumberland Plain’ of Western Sydney, one of the most heavily cleared landscapes in Australia. Not only do CLC conservation reserves contain critically endangered ecological plant communities of environmental value, but the reserves also protect wildlife.
“Within CLC properties are seven examples of the 22 Shale associated plant communities identified across the Sydney basin. This diversity of communities and soil types along with the added overlap of flora and fauna species proves valuable in determining long term changes to those species’ ability to survive” says Peter Mobbs, CLC Scientific Officer.
Earthwatch will be developing four new ClimateWatch Trails on CLC reserves over 2018-2019 and will be hosting a community training workshop as part of the new partnership. The trails will monitor species across various taxonomic groups from plants, birds, reptiles and insects and will be the first ClimateWatch trails in the Western Sydney region.
“This global study in phenology, seasonal changes, dovetails perfectly with CLC’s ongoing flora and fauna monitoring to inform habitat restoration of the Cumberland Plain”, says Mark Fuller, CLC Fauna Manager.
Cumberland Land Conservancy, Marsdenia reserve in Llandilo, NSW.
The partnership was launched in June 2018 at “Wallaroo”, a former grazing property which is now a key restoration site of the CLC. The event showcased the ClimateWatch initiative and the partnership between Earthwatch and CLC to over 50 attendees, with representatives from community, non-profit, education and local government.
The trails will allow the community to contribute to the monitoring of plants and animals in CLC reserves, to learn about the phenology of the different species, and to help identify whether there any shifts are occurring.
“This monitoring will support CLC’s direction in developing a more comprehensive scientific based understanding for best management practices on our remaining natural bushland areas”, says Peter Mobbs.
Regular and long-term observations involving the community are necessary
Our ability to detect changes and shifts in the timing of nature’s life cycle events is essential if we are to understand and manage the full consequences of climate change on biodiversity.
"To help capture this data in NSW, and across Australia, we need schools and community groups to get involved” – Nadiah Roslan, Earthwatch Australia.
To stay updated on the new ClimateWatch trails on CLC reserves, keep an eye out on the CLC Facebook page or reach out via email (https://cumberlandlc.org.au/). For more information about Earthwatch Institute’s ClimateWatch program please visit climatewatch.org.au
CLC Ecologist, Linda Grevinga, searching for signs of the endangered Cumberland Plain Land Snail (Meridolum corneovirens)