Harnessing people power for urban-ecological research

Cities offer an opportunity to engage a large urban population with nature and biodiversity research through citizen science. The CAUL Hub’s Urban Wildlife App allows citizen scientists to contribute data to research questions about the distribution and behaviour of wildlife in cities. The app has 4 modules, each focusing on these species groups: flying-foxes, frogs, beneficial insects, and possums and gliders.

Since its launch 4 years ago, the app has been used in multiple citizen science projects across the country, engaging more than 300 users. Users submitted more than 3,500 observations and researchers have identified 44 species so far.

An important distinction from other apps is that it allows data to be collected using the same protocols as scientists, ensuring the outcomes are scientifically rigorous and targeted to key research questions for each module. By using these methods, citizen scientists recorded important ecological interactions and information on how species use and move through cities and towns. They also revealed sources of conflict and mortality. These findings shed light on how urban spaces can be better managed to ensure they benefit wildlife and humans into the future.

Banner image: A citizen scientist submitted this photo of a motorbike frog in Perth to the Urban Wildlife App.

Lessons from environmental managers in Australian cities

Urban areas are often overlooked and undervalued in conservation planning. However, Australian cities remain notable for their biodiversity, and support significant remnant vegetation, threatened ecological communities, and populations of threatened species.

To encourage positive actions for nature in our cities, the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes (CAUL) Hub released a new booklet featuring lessons and tips shared by urban environmental managers across Australian cities. Researchers spoke with managers from 25 different organisations to learn about the breadth of urban biodiversity conservation projects they pursued. They shared many valuable lessons, such as engaging with communities early to make change happen, using policy and commitments to drive action, and focusing on the small wins.

The booklet serves as a companion document to a 3-part CAUL project exploring opportunities and pathways for urban conservation action. The first stage of the research involved interviews with environmental managers to find out what kinds of things they did for urban biodiversity, the challenges they faced and how they achieved their goals. The second part of this project was led by independent Indigenous agency INDIGI LAB and outlined opportunities to integrate Indigenous knowledge and practice in urban biodiversity conservation. Finally, the researchers created a handy inventory of 353 actions to inspire urban land managers.

Image: The illustration shows some of the lessons shared by urban environmental managers in an example of a new conservation project: Restoring a degraded urban patch into a biodiversity-friendly urban wetland. Illustration: Elia Pirtle

Urban wetlands: promoting their conservation and cultural value

Wetlands are important features in our urban landscapes. Urban wetlands can act as pollutant traps and provide cooling benefits and recreation opportunities for city-dwellers. They are also critical to the conservation and recovery of many species found in cities, including threatened species.

Many cities in Australia were founded on wetlands and waterways that are integral to Indigenous history and culture. These wetlands and waterways are Indigenous places of immense cultural value and meaning, including those that may have ‘disappeared’ or run channelled under our streets.

Wetlands have featured in several of the CAUL hub’s research investigations because of their significance in urban systems. A new report summarises the hub’s research covering the role of urban wetlands in threatened-species conservation, the threats that affect urban wetland habitats, possible actions to restore and enhance wetlands in cities and towns, and the importance of urban wetlands as Indigenous places.

Research highlights included interviews with urban land managers. These found several examples of local government and community groups working together to convert under-used urban spaces into biodiversity-friendly wetlands. These projects are an excellent illustration of how new wetland spaces can be created within heavily urbanised areas.

Image: A neglected drainage ditch in central Melbourne was converted into a chain of biodiversity-friendly wetlands. The image shows the ditch after restoration. Photo: Westgate Biodiversity Bili Nursery and Landcare