Urban wildlife

Get back to noticing nature, with the Wildversity Spring Challenge

I am the kind of person who notices stuff. Not all stuff. Probably not if we need milk, or if my car is about to run out of petrol. No, I notice important stuff. Living stuff.

Living stuff is the technical term that we scientists use for plants, animals, fungi, and the like. I’m most struck by living stuff that lives near me. In my backyard, on my commute, or at work. Like the gulls that bathe in the fountain above south lawn every morning, the thornbills that live in the university’s System Garden, the spider that built a weird web in the corner of my windowsill, or the possum that really should be asleep but is instead raiding the bin near the bus stop in broad daylight.

This stuff, to me, is important. Noteworthy.

Just the other day, a pair of pardalotes flitted into my backyard and I very nearly had a conniption. Pardalotes! In my yard! Who do I call?!!! There must be someone to notify?!?!

I’ve recently found a way to capture that kind of information. QuestaGame is an app that encourages people to submit biodiversity sightings, returns meaningful information on what you saw, and rewards you for your records.

The process is pretty simple. You head out to find yourself some living stuff, use the app to snap a photo of it, and click submit. For those of you with a competitive streak, you even get ‘gold’ for each sighting, and can receive accolades for the rarest or most number of finds.

Submitting a record hinges on you being able to take a photo of what you saw – admittedly easier for some species than others, depending on how good your phone is. But I’m told you can get around this by uploading images from your whiz-bang camera to your phone, and then submitting those images through the app.

I won’t explain the ins and outs of the ‘game’ aspect here (partly because I don’t know them all), but even without this component I’ve found this a really handy little app. If I know what the species is, I can identify it in my record and even submit field notes to back up my observation. If I don’t know what I’ve seen, the experts on the other end send me back an ID with some very cool little tidbits about the species.

Unlike the ‘wham-bam-thankyou-Mother Nature’ style of a BioBlitz, QuestaGame limits you to around five records a day. At first, I found this a little frustrating. But then I started to develop a daily habit of seeking out nature. You want to record more things? You’ll have to go out again tomorrow, and the day after that. It encourages you to explore and to notice every living thing around you. And I really like this aspect. It’s been an ashamedly long time since I’ve done that.

QuestaGame will appeal to you if 1) you really liked PokemonGo, or 2) you complained about PokemonGo loudly and with gusto because, ‘We should do this for real nature instead’. Now, you kind of can.

The “clan” and “quest” features also make it a great way of getting as many boots on the ground recording nature as possible. That’s what University of Melbourne is doing at the moment, with its Spring Wildversity Challenge. The goal is to map biodiversity across our campuses, and get a better idea of the ‘living stuff’ we share the space with. The quest started in August and has just two weeks left (up until November 30). If you work, study, or simply visit any of the University of Melbourne campuses, please consider contributing to the final push!

You can get involved by:

1) Downloading the “QuestaGame” app (it’s free) and signing up
2) Joining the Wildversity Clan

3) Go explore and record sightings!

Screen Shot 2017-11-14 at 3.12.10 pm

You can read more about the challenge (https://questagame.com/wildversity-spring-challenge-details/) and the rules here (https://questagame.com/wildversity-comp-rules). As if you need even more incentive, there are cash prizes on offer for high scores, best photo and best find! Plus, all verified records are uploaded to the Atlas of Living Australia, where they’ll be available to the public and other researchers.

For me, this started out as being all about just recording incidental things that I noticed. Now it’s transformed into actively seeking out nature, and opening my eyes to the things (especially the tiny things) that are around me all the time. And if you’re largely deskbound, like me, this is a great way to flex your naturalist muscles. I’m really excited to find out what other ‘living stuff’ the rest of you notice!

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