Saturday, June 23, 2012

NatureWatch NZ is coming!

We've been hard at work here at NZBRN over the past year working on our replacement to our current web bio-recording system. We've joined the open-source iNaturalist project and have been busy optimising the system for New Zealand and adding on legacy NZBRN features you've come to depend on. It's looking really good and we are on track to launch in August. Here's a quick peak at the new features we'll be introducing.

First, a brand new and shiny system deserves a shiny new name. You won't need to be NZBRNing on your next tramp. Now you can NatureWatch.
NatureWatch NZ
Built by NZBRN | powered by iNaturalist
We decided on NatureWatch NZ after an extensive and surprisingly emotive debate and vote amongst a selection of 85 of our keenest users and supporters (thanks everyone!). Initial suggestions playing on our new iNaturalist connections, kiwiNaturalist and nzNaturalist, were shot down by people concerned they'd be obligated to do their nature watching without any clothes.

So what will the new system be able to do for you? Check out these great new features, baked right into the iNaturalist DNA by the clever iNaturalist developers.
  • Photo uploads! Upload to NatureWatch NZ directly or connect to us from your Flickr or Picasa web galleries.
  • "ID please"! Flag you observations with photos as ID please and other NatureWatch users will suggest identifications.
  • Challenge and agree with IDs! Crowd-sourcing at its best, NatureWatch NZ lets everyone correct the errors they see in each others observations.
  • Comment on observations! Do you want to know how someone got that amazing photo? Or how they got so close to such an elusive animal? Start up a conversation.
  • Follow other users! If you discover another NatureWatch NZ user making interesting observations in your area, or of species you're really interested in, you can follow them to automatically see all of their new observations.
  • Join and create projects! Get together with like minded people in a project. It could be your community restoration group. It could be your school nature watch project. It could be fans of jumping spiders.
  • Life lists, and species lists per place! You can easily use NatureWatch NZ to view a list of all the species you've recorded. You can also browse places and see a list of all the species found there. If NatureWatch NZ doesn't have the place you want, you can make it by drawing a polygon on our map.
  • iPhone and Android apps! Because, seriously, who carries a computer out into the wild. If you've got a smart phone in your pocket, add your observations on the spot, whether you're online or offline.
NatureWatch NZ

You can pop on over to iNaturalist and get an idea of what NatureWatch NZ will offer. But we'll also do more than that. We're busy at the moment getting NatureWatch NZ hooked up to the about-to-be-launched New Zealand Organisms Register, so you'll be able to record an observation of any species in New Zealand, be it a silvereye or a starfish. Plus we're making it easier for you to record more details about your observations, like what species it's eating. And we're working on a list of refinements and new features that we'll continue to release over the next 12 months after NatureWatch NZ is available.

We're all very excited. This is everything we wanted when NZBRN started in 2005, and a whole lot more.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Helping watch the world's biodiversity

NZBRN was part of the recent workshop in Lincoln and Christchurch on GEO-BON, the biodiversity observation network (BON) of the United Nations Group on Earth Observations (GEO). GEO-BON is attempting to establish a global biodiversity observation system to better track biodiversity changes. Biodiversity remains the poor cousin of more thoroughly monitored environmental factors like carbon, nitrogen, climate, and fresh water, despite the world being on the cusp of the biggest extinction event since the loss of the dinosaurs. GEO-BON is trying to change that. Henrique Pereira of GEO-BON visited New Zealand to learn about how we do things here.
West Coast roadmap in harriers
Keen NZBRN user Mark Crompton's map of West Coast roads using his Australasian harrier observations.

Henrique started the NZ BioData workshop by introducing us to the problem. It's alarmingly difficult to get a global-scale picture of the biodiversity crisis. Even assessing land cover changes on a global scale is difficult, as the necessary information is scattered. The few high-quality, large-scale, long-term biodiversity datasets, mostly from Europe and North America and strongly biased towards vertebrates, paint a grim picture of widespread ongoing declines in most groups. We need comparable long-term data from a wider variety of groups across the whole world to properly assess the true extent of the biodiversity crisis. Henrique's suggestion is to set up some simple monitoring of birds, butterflies, and plants across a global network of repeatedly visited sites.

It was clear in the workshop that New Zealand is leading the world in many aspects of biodiversity monitoring, especially with the Department of Conservation's Natural Heritage Management System (NHMS) that has begun to repeatedly visit a grid of plots across all of New Zealand's public wildlands. By collaborating with New Zealand's carbon monitoring programme (currently called LUCAS), DOC is monitoring detailed biodiversity information from public wildlands in an 8 km square grid across the whole country. We will be well placed from this to record how native and exotic biodiversity in these plots changes over time as environmental change accelerates (climate, nitrogen cycle, phosphorous cycle, biological invasions, etc.).

NZBRN was well represented at the workshop and I gave a talk about what NZBRN has achieved since we began in 2005. I also gave an overview of where we're heading with our new iNaturalist-based system, which will be launched later this year. You can see a copy of my talk here. (We were pleased to learn that Henrique was well-familar with iNaturalist and they were already in discussions with GEO-BON.)
NZBRN talk at BioData Workshop
Here's a copy of our talk on NZBRN at the BioData workshop (3.5 MB PDF).

Henrique concluded that it is a myth that the data is out there to be collated. There's a big role for "citizen science" in collecting data, and most of the long-term biodiversity datasets we have globally are collected wholly or in part by volunteers (just like New Zealand's excellent bird atlas project of the Ornithological Society of New Zealand and the garden bird survey). It's up to us all to collectively open our eyes to the nature around us and watch how our activities are changing the world.