Photo: Kristian Bell

Students bee good, not waspish, in citizen science projects

Students bee good, not waspish, in citizen science projects

Students aged seven to 17 have helped scientists better understand the urban habitats for bees, wasps and flies, while themselves gaining a better understanding of science.

Scientists have published the resulting research paper in partnership with students from five schools throughout Australia.

Dr Erin Roger, a lead author of the paper and a senior scientist in citizen science at the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, said the study looked at habitat in urban environments for pollinator insects including bees, wasps and flies.

‘Students were involved in deploying the pan traps used to attract, capture and monitor the insects,’ she said. ‘They also helped analyse the collected data and graph the results. Importantly, the study helped bring science to the classroom and demonstrate the scientific method first hand to students.’

They found that the highest number of insects were caught in open grassy areas, and the fewest insects were caught in paved areas. ‘Habitat had a significant effect on the number of pollinator insects caught,’ she said. ‘Previous research showed pollinator insects are more common in open habitats like meadows and woodland, while paved surfaces have a negative effect on their populations.’

Dr Roger said that citizen science engages the students directly with environmental science, gives them an understanding of the scientific process, and allows them to observe local representations of global challenges.

‘It’s also a good way to contribute valuable data for understudied but environmentally important areas, particularly in urban areas across large geographical regions.’

She hopes that other scientists will be inspired to involve students in research, and that the students’ citizen science efforts will lead to an improved understanding of how precious Australian plants and animals are, and how important science is for Australian society.

‘We want to drive a new era of public participation in science by developing collaborative projects that engage the community in science to help deliver environmental outcomes. Citizen science is an exciting and innovative way to engage the community and improve the latest information on the environment. This collaboration between scientists and the community empowers everyone to look after our environment.’

The research involved students in Year 2 to Year 11 from schools in Sydney, Canberra, Albury, and Melbourne, and scientists involved in the 2015 NSW Office of Environment and Heritage / Ecological Society of Australia Prize for Outstanding Outreach.

The paper, ‘Citizen science in schools: Engaging students in research on urban habitat for pollinators’, appeared in the journal Austral Ecology (

Photo: Patrick Tegart OEH