A PhD student has initiated a citizen science project that enlists the help of the public to identify pathogens that may be responsible for killing some of the fynbos species in the region.
Joey Hulbert, a student in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Pretoria (UP) and an Affiliate Research Student in the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology at Stellenbosch University, has already managed to engage more than a hundred participants in his scientific research about plant disease in the fynbos.
Hulbert research focuses on a fascinating group of micro-organisms called Phytophthora cinnamomi, known to cause root disease in many protea species in the fynbos.
For the first phase of the project, Hulbert is calling on the public to share their observations and report dying plants they encounter when hiking or cycling in areas populated by fynbos. Participants can contribute samples that could lead to the discovery of new Phytophthora species in an area outside the reach of the organisers of the project, provided they have permission from the landowner to do so.
He, however, cautions that participants should guard against disturbing red-listed species by rather marking the GPS point and submitting a photograph using the tools provided on the Cape Citizen Science website when they encounter a sick or dying plant.
“You can save a lot of plants by reporting an epidemic early,” says Hulbert. “Early detection is critical for preventing the spread of invasive species. Your report may even be the first of its kind! Reporting new disease sightings quickly will allow land managers to try to eradicate the invasive disease causing organisms before they spread too far.”
Landowners willing to permit research activity on their property are encouraged to get involved with the project and, because citizen science projects provide many opportunities for experimental, non-traditional, hands-on and outside-the-classroom educational activities, schools in the area can also contact Hulbert for support in getting learners involved in hunting for pathogens in the fynbos as a fun and practical learning experience.
The website can be found at www.citsci.co.za/report.