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.
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.
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!
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)