Each week Cosmos takes a look at the latest projects and news about Citizen Science in Australia.
Yep, it’s that time of the year. Welcome to the wintry heart of flu season, and one enlivened by the menacing shadow of COVID-19. So there’s probably never been a better time to join a very long-running – more than 14 years – study and contribute.
FluTracking is a simple surveillance system that uses the community-minded and the Internet to monitor influenza. If you join up you’ll be contributing to scientific research and helping to track influenza in your community and nationwide. The study started in Australia and has since grown to New Zealand.
And it couldn’t be simpler. Each week during flu season you complete a simple online survey that takes less than 15 seconds. You can sign up for yourself and have other family members in the weekly survey, provided they consent.
FluTracking’s aim is to develop a system that provides community level influenza-like illness surveillance; consistent surveillance of influenza activity across all jurisdictions and over time; and year-to-year comparison of the timing, attack rates, and seriousness of influenza in the community.
Given how little interest most of us have in catching the flu, the results are surprisingly engrossing. I can tell you that, in my postcode, 337 people completed the survey for week ending 5 July. There were 0% reports of fever and coughing across respondents.
More than 140,000 people contribute to FluTracking each week. Over the project’s duration more than 6.5 million surveys have been completed.
To get started and for more information visit the FluTracking website here.
I Spy a Wollemi Pine
The story of the discovery, identification and conservation of the Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) is one of the great modern botanical yarns.
In 1994 a trio of adventurers were looking for new canyons in the Wollemi National Park west of Sydney when they saw a small stand of unusual trees. They took away samples which botanists identified; the tree was only known from the fossil record – the oldest example 200 million years old. The discovery was swiftly dubbed “the dinosaur tree”.
In order to protect the tiny wild population of W. nobilis – less than 100 individuals – a cultivation program was instituted, with Wollemi pines being sold commercially and proceeds from sales assisting conservation. As a result, the dinosaur tree has literally gone around the world.
Launched in late 2019, I Spy a Wollemi Pine is an initiative of Australian Botanic Garden researchers to use citizen science to investigate where exactly Wollemi pines are seen in gardens across Australia, and worldwide
They want to know the hottest, coldest, wettest and driest places where “wollies” are growing to gain insights into the tree’s environmental tolerances, and help manage the species through climate change. Researchers also hope the project raises awareness of the importance of gardens in conserving threatened plants.
Results were coming in a steady pace when COVID-19 restrictions hit, and the project is officially ongoing. Most results as of late March had come from Australia (just over 50%), but there were also responses from Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the UK and the US.
To get started, go to a survey page here, where you’ll also find links to more information about the project.
Ian Connellan is editor-in-chief of the Royal Institution of Australia.
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