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What our backyards can tell us about the world

Citizen science projects are a way to contribute to science from your own backyard. Shutterstock

What our backyards can tell us about the world

Our backyards are home to many scuttling, slithering and scampering creatures, which are often the subject of fascination. But they can also play a key role in tracking the changes in the world around us – for science.

Science is a vital tool to monitor the world, but scientists can’t do it all alone. Ordinary citizens can help by getting involved in a citizen science project.

People are spending weekends with their friends and families learning more about their backyards and gathering data that would otherwise be inaccessible to scientists.

They’re helping to manage invasive species, tree death, diseases and animal health. And it’s a way to take responsibility for the environment, urban areas, farmland and the creatures that visit our gardens.

Here are just a few ways you can get involved too.

Birds in backyards

Bird feeders and water dispensers are a great way to monitor human interactions with wildlife. If you have them, you can see the effect they have on your garden. You may even get a visit from a threatened species.

This project, created by researchers at Deakin and Griffith universities, aims to find out how people influence bird numbers and species diversity, and to measure the impact of food and water provisions. The organisers are looking for volunteers.

Additionally, BirdLife Australia’s Birds in Backyards is a project that collects reports of backyard bird sightings for analysis through the data-collection site Birdata. The site also contains resources on bird-friendly gardening, a bird finder tool (for identifying that pesky bird), forums and events.

Aggressive birds?

You may have heard the story of the bell miner (Manorina melanophrys), its feeding habits, aggressive behaviour and its association with a plant sickness known as eucalypt dieback.

A bell miner hangs from the trees. David Cook/Flickr, CC BY-NC

The Bell Miner Colony Project, which I run, looks at the bell miners’ habitat choice and movements, and investigates whether they really cause dieback. The project, developed two years ago, looks to answer questions about bell miner distribution across the east coast of Australia, and helps with managing forests and gardens.

Most people either love or hate bell miners. I personally love them, so I want to find out what they are really doing on a species scale.

One colony lives in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens and another in the Melbourne Zoo, so they are easy to see and visit. They make a distinctive “tink” call throughout the day, which can be used to monitor density. If you have seen any, please report them.

Tracking ferals

If your area seems to be riddled with pests, Feral Scan is a website for surveying and identifying them. The data is compiled and plotted on a map to create a scanner for previous sightings.

Another website for reporting biodiversity sightings is the Atlas of Living Australia. Any species seen in your backyard or during your travels can be added to the searchable database of sightings from across the nation.

Helping wombats

WomSAT maps and record wombats and wombat burrow locations. So if you’ve seen wombats running around, let them know.

A wombat infected with mange. Upsticksngo/Flickr, CC BY

There is also a call for volunteers in the ACT to help treat wombats with mange infections. Mange is a skin disease caused by mites, which leaves wombats itching until they scab. Volunteers help by applying treatments outside wombat burrows and monitoring the burrows with cameras.

Weed spotting

For those of you who are not into animals, there is a project for detecting new and emerging weeds in Queensland.

Queensland Herbarium teaches weed identification and mapping skills so that you can send your weed specimens and accompanying data to them.

This helps scientists determine where weeds are, how they spread and the best process for large-scale management.

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