What role can citizen science play in landscape revegetation?

Citizen scientists have been monitoring the recovery of the areas affected by the 2003 Canberra bushfires for over a decade. Sarah Hnatiuk and Ian Rayner explain how they got on.

Bushfire and recovery

In January 2003, bushfires burned through the forests of the ACT and into the suburbs of Canberra, taking the lives of four people, destroying homes and engulfing over two-thirds of the ACT.

Following the fires, we formed a partnership with the ACT Government, engaging the Canberra community in regreening the fire-affected areas. Over the past decade 15,000 volunteers from the ACT region have helped plant over 500 hectares with 306,343 tree, shrub and ground cover seedlings.

Monitoring outcomes: Citizen Science at work

We decided to monitor the survival of seedlings to establish how successfully volunteers are able to carry out large-scale rehabilitation. The monitoring itself was carried out by seven volunteers: they collected, managed, analysed, and reported on the data.

These volunteers have established 108 monitoring sites, tracking the progress of 2160 individual seedlings. This has entailed a huge commitment from the volunteers, learning to identify species, liaising with Greening Australia staff and battling the prolific blackberry bushes.

Proof of landscape restoration by volunteers

Plant survival rate graphPlant survival rate graph

The volunteers monitored seedlings for the first three years after planting. The results demonstrated that:

  • the greatest mortality occurred during the first 12 months;
  • average survival was 77.9% after one year across all plantings 2005-2012, which included excessively high mortality in 2006;
  • there was variation among species in how well they survived;
  • there was natural regeneration of native shrubs and some weeds, particularly blackberry.

Citizen scientists are vital to our work

With volunteers motivated to collect, manage and analyse data over the long term, we have gained valuable information that is useful in managing ongoing revegetation work. Without these committed volunteers, this information would not have been available.

This project shows what a fantastic resource volunteers are, both for landscape-scale revegetation and as citizen scientists.

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