Help your students become citizen scientists and learn about New Zealand urban ecology while contributing to scientific research.
Identify New Zealand Animals was an online citizen science project where students can help biologists by identifying animals in photographs. The photographs, taken by motion-activated cameras, enable scientists to investigate the distribution of invasive mammals like possums and rats, which are threatening native species.
Researchers have collected over 100,000 photographs from different cities around New Zealand. They upload the pictures in ‘small’ sets of 10,000 photographs and display the progress in the identification of photos on the homepage. Thus, students can see how their contributions are helping scientists to have all the photographs classified.
Wildlife in New Zealand has evolved in unique ways due to its long isolation from other continental land masses. In the absence of terrestrial mammals, other than our native bat species, New Zealand’s animals and plants have evolved characteristics unseen elsewhere in the world. Since the introduction of mammalian predators such as rats, mice, stoats and cats, New Zealand’s unique biodiversity is threatened. Wildlife is often associated with remote areas, but New Zealand’s unique fauna and flora can also be found in cities and towns. To better understand how we can protect native biodiversity in cities, biologists are using motion-activated cameras to investigate the distribution and abundance of introduced mammals in urban environments.
How to be part of the research process
Being part of this research process offers an opportunity to explore with your students topics such as ecology, native species and monitoring nature and also concepts such as biodiversity, ecosystem, evolution and citizen science. Some background learning and understanding of New Zealand’s ecology and animals, both native and pest species, would be helpful before getting started with the Identify New Zealand Animals online resource.
The project team has worked with different schools and ages:
- For years 1–3, projecting the website on a screen and asking the students to identify the animal worked best.
- For years 4–7, students worked in groups of 2–6 students, depending on the number of tablets or computers available.
- For years 8–13, students used the website individually or in small groups.
Of course as teachers, you need to do what works best for your students in your classrooms.
Nature of science
Being part of a citizen science project and acknowledging students’ contribution as part of a bigger research process is a great way of building students’ competence in participating and contributing and individuals’ confidence in learning.
Explore with your students the purpose of the Identify New Zealand Animals project:
- What is a citizen science project?
- Why do scientists want help from students and communities?
- What type of animals can live in parks, gardens and backyards?
- Why is important for biologists to know?
To start classifying the photographs, students need access to the website. Click ‘Get started’ and a pop-up tutorial will explain how to identify the animals in the photographs. After students work through the tutorial, they can start identifying the photographs.
Urban ecology discussion
Discuss with your students the animals they have seen in the photos. Extend your students’ thinking about what impact the pest species may have on the native animals in the area. Are dogs and cats pests? Were they surprised to see any of the animals they identified? Talk about and acknowledge their contribution to the research project. The stats section of the Identify New Zealand Animals website will give you and your students insights into how pie charts and bar graphs are used to illustrate different concepts, for example, how many classifications the project has received and the estimated time of completion.
Further engagement with the website
The website provides students an option to sign up so individual students, students in groups or the entire class can become a user. Users can keep track of the number of photographs classified and make comments after each classification. Becoming a user is useful to get identification help or inform researchers about a rare sighting.
The last set of photographs was successfully classified by over 2,000 volunteers in June 2018. The researchers are currently collecting new photographs from different New Zealand cities and plan to upload them to the website shortly.
The article, Invasive animals in cities gives more information on this project and the outcomes.
Being part of this research process offers an opportunity to explore with your students topics such as ecology, environmental monitoring and citizen science and concepts such as biodiversity, ecosystem and evolution.
This activity supports students to build a food web that represents the New Zealand bush ecosystem. Students use images of organisms within the ecosystem to explore the relationships between them.
Can we make New Zealand pest-free? Investigate: Why do we need to help?
Discuss the importance of observation in science.
In this activity, students play a version of battleships that explores what happens to flora and fauna when habitat is lost.
Cat ownership and control could be a good subject for a socio-scientific investigation by students. Use the article Cat fight to explore this further.
Citizen science projects
The number of opportunities to be involved as citizen scientists continues to grow, and teachers are increasingly using them to make science education more relevant and engaging and to develop students’ science capabilities. Explore the projects listed in the Citizen science section, (a couple of examples are below), find one that sparks an interest or is local and see these tips for planning your science programme.
Other New Zealand citizen science projects:
- This project involves analysing personnel files of early 20th century New Zealand soldiers – www.measuringtheanzacs.org.
- An informative PDF from Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research: An inventory of citizen science – programmes, projects and learning opportunities in New Zealand
Check out the large collection of citizen science resources that we have curated in this Pinterest board
This project was developed by Victoria University of Wellington researchers: Victor Anton, Stephen Hartley and Heiko Wittmer. The website is managed by People, Cities and Nature, a multi-disciplinary programme investigating ecological restoration in New Zealand cities. For more information about the ongoing programme, check www.peoplecitiesnature.co.nz.