[Taxacom] De-extinction & Rhachistia aldabrae

Walker, Ken kwalker at museum.vic.gov.au
Wed Oct 22 20:04:12 CDT 2014


Hi Jason,

I totally disagree with your assessment of citizen science being on the decline and that the efforts of citizen science can be dismissed as " are taking pictures of "bugs": bigger, smaller, red, blue or yellow."

Here is Australia, we have a citizen science website called BowerBird which is a socially interactive website somewhat like the northern hemisphere equivalents of Project Noah, iNaturalist and iSpot.  For me, the quality of a citizen science website is whether or not the data it generates is on-shared with national or international biodiversity databases.

Let me give you one BowerBird example that came in this month.  A citizen science person submitted an image of a ladybeetle.  He had tried to identify it himself but could not place the species.  In Australia, we have a wonderful CSIRO website displaying all known extant Australian ladybeetle species.  The BowerBird image did not match any of the images on the diagnostic website.  So, we sent the image to the BMNH ladybeetle expert who came back with the statement "Back from the Dead".  The species photographed was presumed to be extinct as it had not been seen or recorded since 1940.  The story of this citizen science find was told in one of our national newspapers: http://www.theage.com.au/technology/sci-tech/extinct-ladybird-back-from-the-dead-20141014-115u4j.html (where you can see an image of the beetle).

To me, the essence of science is to observe and ask questions.  What better way is there than to have thousands of "natural history amateur eyes" documenting spatial and temporal data for the Australian (swap Australia for any other country) biota.  BowerBird has discovered new species and helped to track invasive species.  The exotic carder bee (Afranthidium (Immanthidium) repetitum) was first reported in Brisbane in 2000.  By 2007, it had been recorded  south in Sydney but since the Sydney records no further distribution extensions had been recorded.  Then in February and March 2014, two amateurs noticed a "strange bee" in their garden.  They photographed their strange bee and posted the images on BowerBird with the question "Bee ID?".  We bee "experts" immediately recognised it as the South African carder bee and the records came from hundreds of kilometres north of Brisbane and hundreds south of Sydney - on the state of Victoria's border.  Australia has many exotic "sleeper weeds" but they remain in small numbers as they lack their effective pollinator.  The spread of any exotic pollinator needs to be monitored and watched for a possible explosion of a sleeper weed. It was citizen science who alerted us to this alarming spread.

BowerBird "favourites" are often created by an "expert" mentoring "natural history amateur eyes" .  One such case is the humble but extraordinary life styled and bizarrely coloured flatworms.  Australia has only one flatworm expert located in north Queensland.  However, he has inspired many BowerBird members from around Australia to roll back logs in search of these flatworms.  The expert identifies each flatworm image posted to BowerBird but he adds stories about how the scientific name was derived and about the species behaviour.  There are now almost 50 BowerBird members on the Flatworm project who have image captured many of Australia's flatworm species.  The expert has told me that for many species, the BowerBird images were his first live images for many species - he usually sees them as pickled individuals.  The expert has also requested and been able to get these amateurs to collect and send him specimens for DNA analysis.  If you have never seen a flatworm or want to read something about them, then I recommend the flatworm project: http://www.bowerbird.org.au/projects/1633/sightings

Finally, the Australian GBIF node is ALA (Atlas of Living Australia).  BowerBird went live in May 2013 and there are automatic weekly data (images. Identifications, spatrila/temporal etc) uploads to ALA.  Currently, there are almost 11,000 BowerBird records on ALA (to see the spread of records from around Australia see:  http://biocache.ala.org.au/occurrences/search?q=data_resource_uid:dr893#tab_mapView ).  This represents about a 60% identification success rate for images that you describe as "pictures of "bugs": bigger, smaller, red, blue or yellow."

New species have been nominated, new distributions have been recorded, new stories have been told about the Australian fauna, new friendships have been made and these new "friends" now go out together on their own photographic BioBlitzes and on-share their finds to BowerBird to ALA to GBIF.  I'm happy with this deal !!

I am sure these stories here can be repeated for Project Noah, iNaturalist and iSpot.

For me, citizen science is on the up not the decline.  Getting "professional" scientists to engage with this "new" data source is the next "challenge".

Best  Ken

-----Original Message-----
From: Taxacom [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of JF Mate
Sent: Thursday, 23 October 2014 2:14 AM
To: Taxacom
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] De-extinction & Rhachistia aldabrae

Hi Bob,

I agree the scale is altogether different but even in densely populated areas in Australia even basic invertebrate biodiversity knowledge is lacking. The decline in "natural history" amateurs is global and cannot be compensated by the explosion of macrophotography since they (mostly) are taking pictures of "bugs": bigger, smaller, red, blue or yellow. If you don´t know what you are photographing then it is like it doesn´t exist. For Europe (with some exceptions) the decline may not be as damaging. The fauna is well known and there are plenty of guides and keys that digital enthusiasts could use. The goal here has at least been partially achieved. In Australia, other than butterflies and a couple of other popular groups you are out of luck.

Cristian. Spain is in a similar (albeit not as extreme) situation to Australia. High biodiversity, incomplete knowledge but a declining body of amateurs (and legislation that doesn´t help either).

Best

Jason





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