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Science project aims to boost fynbos conservation

Cape Citizen Science is a project that invites the public to participate in a research study about plant disease in the fynbos.

The project is based at Stellenbosch University, but receives support from the Centre of Excellence in Tree Health Biotechnology and the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute.

Citizens in the Hermanus area can participate by reporting dying plants or submitting samples to the laboratory in Stellenbosch.

However, samples can only be collected from areas where the citizen has permission.

The project plans to organise sampling activities and workshops to train participants to recognise and sample plant disease.

Last Thursday was the first sampling activity based in Hermanus.

Four scout troops from Cape Town participated as citizen scientists in a plant disease research activity at Hoys Koppie.

A presentation was given which emphasised the importance of biodiversity and covered topics such as microorganisms as the cause of disease.

The scouts set out with the organiser of Cape Citizen Science to hunt pathogens – microbes that cause disease. After collecting some samples at Hoys Koppie (clippings from sick looking plants), the scouts learned how to isolate microorganisms by placing pieces into agar (a medium used to study microbes) in petri plates, allowing the microorganisms to grow.

The research focuses on a group of microorganisms called Phytophthora. This group causes many serious plant diseases around the world, including sudden oak death and ramorum blight.

It has also been pinpointed as the cause of protea root rot, threatening silver trees and many other Proteaceae in the fynbos. Currently only one species is known to occur in the fynbos, Phytophthora Cinnamomi, but the researchers hypothesise that there are many species, some which may have been introduced more recently.

The project aims to discover the Phytophthora species that are present in the fynbos, identify threats to biodiversity, and ultimately improve conservation efforts. Cape Citizen Science was initiated to add an educational outreach component to the research and to involve citizens in the scientific process.

Anyone is welcome to participate in the project.

The project plans to offer more workshops open to the public in the Hermanus area, starting in September, but if you have a group or would like to learn more about the research, you can contact the organisers at CapeCitSci@gmail.com.

Your participation could lead to the discovery of a new Phytophthora species, or the conservation of a threatened fynbos species. For more information about the research, getting involved, or reporting a dying plant, visit the website: http://citsci.co.za/.

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