To Booderee, and Beyond! The Value of Applied Practice for Students of Biodiversity Conservation

Apprentice learning has been a key contributor to human cognitive evolution. We learn complex skills best by doing them, while observing expert practitioners and sharing knowledge with our peers.

Field trips offer students studying the environment a rare opportunity to put our theoretical knowledge into practice; an opportunity for which we are all grateful. Yet it is not often that the knowledge created in our practice has immediate application for real-world conservation efforts. In a world where we are increasingly aware of the immediacy of biodiversity decline, this can be frustrating. Any opportunity to contribute to current biodiversity research and management has incredible value that extends beyond our own student learning.

Last Friday, 22nd of March, a group of undergraduate and post-graduate ANU students in a course called Biodiversity Conservation made our way to Jervis Bay for a weekend-long field trip. Jervis Bay is located in Booderee National Park, where Professor David Lindenmayer’s team from the ANU Fenner School of the Environment is working collaboratively on a research project with managers of the Park. This project looks at animals’ responses to fire in Booderee, after the major fire event of December 2003.

The aims of our field trip were to experience and evaluate different wildlife survey techniques, to identify vertebrate fauna present in the park, and to contribute to the records of these fauna kept by Lindenmayer’s team.

What did we do?

We deployed camera traps and cage traps at 20 survey sites within Booderee NP, which we checked twice over the two days.

Nicki Munro shows students how to assemble camera traps.

Nicki Munro shows students how to assemble camera traps.

 Phil Gibbons shows students how to set cage traps and safely remove trapped fauna for examination.

Phil Gibbons shows students how to set cage traps and safely remove trapped fauna for examination.

At each of the sites, we also recorded animals at the artificial habitat—corrugated iron, railway sleepers and roof tiles—that had been placed by Booderee researchers for the refuge of small mammals, reptiles and frogs.

 A student lifting artificial cover to check for vertebrate and invertebrate fauna.

A student lifting artificial cover to check for vertebrate and invertebrate fauna.

What did we find?

Over the weekend, we were lucky enough to catch a large number of animals that are native to Booderee NP, including antechinuses, common brushtail possums, bush rats, eastern bristlebirds and even the rare long-nosed bandicoot!

The antechinus is a small carnivorous marsupial that is hard to hold on to!

The antechinus is a small carnivorous marsupial that is hard to hold on to!

This one was female.

This brushtail was female.

 We were taught how to handle and determine the sex of common brushtail possums.

We were taught how to handle and determine the sex of common brushtail possums.

 Bush rats are quite common in Booderee NP.

Bush rats are quite common in Booderee NP.

It is a rare find!

The long-nosed bandicoot is a rare find!

Phil teaches us about the long-nosed bandicoot.

Phil teaches us about the long-nosed bandicoot.

The eastern bristlebird is an endangered species but is quite common in Booderee NP.

The eastern bristlebird is an endangered species but is quite common in Booderee NP.

Turning over the artificial habitat also revealed some small-eyed snakes, delicate skinks and garden skinks, and these were also added to the survey records.

“Yay, furry animals!” But that’s not where it ends…

We had a fun weekend in Booderee NP, and learned a lot about endemic vertebrates and their habitats, different surveying methods, and the importance of clear record-keeping. The practical field experience gave us a strong knowledge base, and our follow-up reports are likely to consolidate this learning. But our hands-on experience has also made a significant (albeit, small) contribution to real-life biodiversity research. This is what made it truly special.

I believe that applied learning is a crucial element of environmental studies that is often overlooked. Even while we are still apprentices in biodiversity conservation, we have the capacity to produce good data and lend a hand with management activities. As a field, biodiversity conservation could gain a lot by encouraging more applied learning opportunities for students, including volunteering. I feel privileged to be a part of a course that already allows me to impact positively on the environment. Yet, one day, I hope to see applied learning become the norm for tertiary environmental education across Australia.

Alison Tandy, BSc/BA (Biology & Anthropology)

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About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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5 Responses to To Booderee, and Beyond! The Value of Applied Practice for Students of Biodiversity Conservation

  1. A great blog Alison. I know that I learn best via applied learning or “research led education” and I hope you can see that the course is also built around this philosophy. That is, from the first practical the class knew that, as a major assignment, we had to develop a biodiversity conservation strategy for our study area around Canberra and in each subsequent practical we explore a piece of this puzzle. Phil

  2. Alison says:

    Thanks Phil! I can definitely see the value of the course. 🙂 Alison

  3. Kien says:

    Thanks very much Alison for sharing on fb. There is a bit where worrying sign such as developing aquaculture in the Jervis Bay (if I get it right) when we were on the boat trip. Is this going to affect biodiversity conservation in the region? Why would there need to have aquaculture (tourism? incomes? or what?). Keep up the positive thoughts and make a change towards Education for Aus (experiential learning is an interesting approach).

  4. Alison says:

    Thanks Kien. Aquaculture certainly was an interesting problem that would be good to look into. I don’t know much about aquaculture though – perhaps and idea for a future field trip to talk to existing aquaculturists and marine conservationists?
    And I do hope that education in Australia is starting to lean more towards a hands-on, student-led inquiry approach. What I was getting at here is that I hope we can take that one step further in biodiversity conservation by actually contributing to real-world research while we are learning. Opportunities like that are truly amazing!

  5. A recent paper in Nature Climate change suggest that we’ll loose 60% more biodiversity till 2080, but a good part can be saved by mitigation and of course stopping global warming: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1887.html
    Related, last year issue of Nature:
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v486/n7401/full/nature11018.html

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