A warming climate’s impact

Over the past decade ClimateWatch has made some important contributions to understanding the phenology of Australian flora and fauna, and having just celebrated its 10-year anniversary, the citizen science project shows no signs of slowing down.

Now, with the weather warming into spring, there’s no better time to head outdoors and get involved.

“Phenology is essentially the timing of nature’s events, for example flowering or fruiting of plants, or migrations and end of hibernations for animals,” says Andrea Haas, head of programs for Earthwatch Australia, which runs ClimateWatch. “Many of these events are closely linked to our climate (namely temperature and rainfall), which we know is changing rapidly due to rising CO2 emissions in our atmosphere.”

ClimateWatch asks volunteers to keep an eye on the behaviours of land and marine animals, as well as flowering patterns in flora. Born as a partnership between Earthwatch Australia, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the University of Melbourne, ClimateWatch aims to fill the gap of information on phenology in Australia.

“There was a lack of scientific data on the phenology of Australian flora and fauna that would help to help inform our climate policies, land use and species management into the future with a warming planet,” Haas explains.

The website has a helpful guide of animal and plant species to keep an eye out for, as well as behaviours and locations volunteers should be looking to observe. So far, ClimateWatch has over 28,000 users who record data on over 130 species, with the total sightings well over 130,000.

200925 climatewatch trail
Volunteers on a ClimateWatch trail. Credit: ClimateWatch

“This amount of data collection would not be possible without citizen science participation,” Haas says. “All that data is submitted to the Atlas of Living Australia so that climate researchers can access the information.”

The collected data will ultimately help inform how land and species are managed in the future under scenarios of a warming planet. The organisation has been involved in various collaborations in creating species distribution maps showing current and future potential ranges of many ClimateWatch species.

“If we understand that a moth’s emergence is no longer in sync with the migration of a bird that preys upon it, then we can better understand the implications for the survival of those species,” Haas says.

Users can gather data anywhere in Australia. It’s as simple as recording when trees flower, or even the presence of butterflies on a walk. With the weather warming up, you can also pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it on any of the ClimateWatch trails: there are more than 80 across the country.

Recording a sighting is as easy as taking a photo with your smartphone or camera and then submitting it on the free app, or the website. However, Haas does suggest taking a GPS with you if you’re using a camera to pinpoint the exact location.

For teachers and educators, there’s also a bunch of education resources aligned with the Australian national curriculum available for download on the Cool Australia website.

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