Explore pollinators through song

Ecology researcher and science communicator Amelie Vanderstock has just spent a year in Japan at Hokkaido University as part of her PhD with the University of Sydney. While fieldwork she hoped to complete in Tokyo wasn’t possible due to Covid-19 pandemic, the experience has opened many other doors. In this interview, Amelie shares her passion for science communication and current projects, including for National Science Week.

My overarching studies concern pollinator ecology in cities. I went to Japan with the intention to explore people’s attitudes towards insects and how we may shift these through urban gardening. Despite the Covid-19 restrictions, I had the chance to work with the City of Ikebukuro in Tokyo and design a ‘pollinator friendly’ community garden in their new city park in addition to facilitating an online urban gardening course.

As a science communicator, my research over the years has evolved into delivering workshops and creative projects. Creating this community gardening course and delivering it in Japanese was a milestone for me. I moved beyond communicating research into attitudes towards insects to applying it in a way that will literally just keep growing!

In Japan I also had the chance to collaborate with Hokkaido Studio; Ezo’n music to make my first EP “Itadakimasu”; including original songs in Japanese and English about ecology from “soil to plate”. From there, communicating my research through performance just bloomed!

I shared my work on local television, radio and the Hokkaido Newspaper. It was an incredible year for developing my skills as a science communicator! As most of my songs are in English, finding creative ways to transcends words was an exciting communication challenge.

One way we approached this was in collaborating with Chiaki, an amazing “Kirigami” (traditional Japanese paper-cutting) artist. Together we curated a show to explain pollination and the mysterious life of solitary bees through paper and song.

For months I’d been singing my song “ABeeC” with enthusiastic audiences who would join in for the chorus. But when Chiaki brought the words to life with paper-craft, the ecology message really came through. I was reminded more than ever about the importance of multimedia communication and the power of scientist-artist collaborations to bring them into being.

Combined with the warmth and wisdom of my lab and supervisors, it was at open-mic nights and participating in the local community garden where I met incredible collaborators.

Crosspollinating in different contexts, I was not only outside my home country Australia, but also going outside the science discipline altogether. In working with traditional artists, gardeners, and influencers, each of us was able to find new ways to broaden the reach of our work on understanding attitudes towards insects. And hopefully, contributing to shifting those attitudes to ones that are a bit more buzzy…

Fun fact. Bees in Japan don’t “Buzz”, they “BunBunBun”.

Inspiring stories

I draw inspiration for my songs from observing bees, digging dirt and even trawling through data tables. As an ecologist, I’m always trying to design ways to pursue a particular curiosity. My stories are the same. What kind of metaphors outside this garden might help to explain what’s going on here? And who might I ask to help me?

To write “It’s a Birthday of Decay”, I consulted all the experts I knew, read papers, listened to podcasts by the leaders in the field, and from there the story emerged. “What is Nature” is a collection of peoples’ definitions of our natural world and from there the stories evolved well, naturally.

The inspirations and processes for each song might differ, but each is a collaboration. From that initial spark I’ll jam with other musicians, consult experts on a particular topic, or brainstorm with other creatives. I think that’s what makes the science and stories so fun share!

See Amelie perform in National Science Week

Amelie will be buzzing around on the main stages of Science in the Swamp at Centennial Park (15 August) and Science in the Scrub at Western Sydney Parklands

(22 August) where she will be performing original songs about native bees, urban ecology and the deliciousness of the garden. Don’t miss this tasty Ecology- POP treat for the whole family.

You can follow Amelie Vanderstock’s ecology adventures on Instagram at amelie_ecology, on You tube Amelie Ecology and on Twitter @amelie_Ecology.