Chart bushfire recovery

Over 46,000,000 acres has been burned so far in the 2019-2020 Australian bushfire season in eastern Australia. Scientists are now seeking to understand how the environment will recover from this unprecedented fire season and there are opportunities for citizen scientists to help UNSW researchers in the Environment Recovery Project by uploading images via the global citizen science app iNaturalist.

Anyone in fire-affected areas of Australia can participate, no matter their scientific knowledge or camera skills: all people need to do is download the mobile app take a photo of a burnt tree, for example, and upload the image to the app.

The iNaturalist community has more than 31 million biodiversity records and links to Australia’s leading citizen science platform Atlas of Living Australia where everybody from scientists and policy makers to the general public can access a wealth of biodiversity information.

About the project

Casey Kirchhoff, a PhD candidate at the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science, founded the Environment Recovery Project after the devastating Southern Highlands’ Morton bushfire destroyed her Wingello home earlier this year.

Determined to rebuild, Casey’s passion for the environment and natural curiosity inspired her to start tracking the post-fire recovery of her surrounding environment, despite her loss.

“I realised I was probably among a handful of scientists collecting this information. So, I thought, why not ask citizen scientists to share their photos? The bushfires have burnt such a large area; it’s impossible to properly survey it with our current resources,” she said.

“The more observations we can collect, the more we will know about the impact of the fires on our environment – particularly in the major bushfire areas in southeastern Australia and right up to Queensland.

“We also need hope when so many of us have lost so much – while we rebuild our home, I look forward to seeing the recovery of the bush with the help of citizen scientists. This is another way people can contribute to post-bushfire efforts.”

Ferns sprouting after fire
Ferns send up new shoots after the bushfires in January 2020. Image by Casey Kirchoff

Observations to inform future research

Professor Richard Kingsford, Director of the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science, said the citizen science initiative gave people the chance to contribute to the understanding of how our amazing natural environment could recover some of its value after the devastation.

“We will use people’s observations for future research into understanding how some areas recover better than others, and in different places, as well as understanding which animals and plants come back first,” Prof Kingsford said.

“The key aims of this initiative are to understand which plant species are resprouting and growing seedlings, to calculate when and how animals return to burnt areas, and to highlight which species are struggling to recover and might need our help.

“Understanding recovery from this unprecedented fire season is scientifically critical and the opportunity to harness the community’s resources through the Environment Recovery Project is a practical way of doing this.”

Get involved

As a citizen scientist, your observations from recently burnt areas are important and can help scientists track renewal and growth. Providing it’s safe to do so, the team behind the Environment Recovery Project encourage you to take a walk in areas of burnt bushland, and upload observations to the platform.

The Environment Recovery Project is interested in common species just as much as rare species. Upload your observations of:

– Plants (native and weeds): Seedling or resprout
– Animals (natives and ferals): Alive or dead, tracks and scats
– Fungi and Lichen
– Landscapes: Scorch height (how high the fires went) and the amount of leaves burnt in the canopy, shrubs, and ground cover.

Feature image from the Blue Mountains uploaded to the iNaturalist platform by a citizen scientist. Visit the Environment Recovery Project for more details, including how to become a citizen scientist.