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Birds on our campuses: biodiversity initiative creates new opportunities for collaboration and citizen science

15 Mai 2023
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Falling populations of common birds are a major biodiversity issue, with a loss of more than 30% of their numbers in recent years. The project “Birds on our campuses”, a new initiative coordinated from Aix- Marseille Université, is trying to assess the situation. It also shows the potential of collaboratio between the CIVIS member universities, as it currently brings on board colleagues from the University of Bucharest, the University of Glasgow, the University of Lausanne and Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

Three periods were chosen as a common thread on universities campuses: fall, winter and spring. The first experimental period of the project (spring) has been running from April 17 to May 13.

The initiative is a participatory ornithological observation event, which is becoming international, as it allows several European universities to contribute at the same time. The Biodiv'AMU mission aims to raise awareness among students and staff about the rich biodiversity of their campus. With the naked eye or, ideally, equipped with binoculars or an observation scope, the world of birds is easily accessible. Data from all university campuses will be instantly valued as part of international inventories, while the contributors can follow in real time the progress of the observations!

The great feature of this year’s edition is the integration of CIVIS campuses, with the involvement of relevant staff at the CIVIS member universities (sustainability departments and faculties/schools in fields such as biology, biodiversity, urban ecology, veterinary science, etc.). What is more, the involvement of the CIVIS Open Labs and the capitalisation on the methodology of their earlier Naturashare project opens this activity to other actors in the local communities of the member universities. 

Indeed, to be able to best manage this project, it has became essential to use a powerful and international platform. Prof. Pascal Carlier therefore switched to data collection by means of iNaturalist, the international participatory science platform used by CIVIS for the transnational project Naturashare. The methodology remains almost the same as for NaturaShare, and participants have to use iNaturalist to capture their observations. It is important to clarify that the initiative is not officially the continuation of Naturashare, but a happy follow-up to this earlier CIVIS activity. The member univerisities were still keen to work together on the issue of biodiversity, and the new project also further disseminate a common methodology (iNaturalist).

Throughout the Birds on our campuses also shows once again the contribution of CIVIS that can make to transnational activities dedicated to enviromental issues. This citizen science collaboration would not have been possible without the CIVIS Open Labs, which proved to be the main facilitator in engaging each university's community. 

Photo source here
Pr. Pascal Carlier, academic ethologist, in charge of the Biodiv'AMU mission, explains why this initiative is interesting and valuable and tells us how everyone can contribute to biodiversity issues like the loss of common birds. "Birds on our campuses promotes participatory inventories and encourages everyone to participate. It creates common spaces of culture in our universities and makes the campuses places of interaction, of training, living and sharing experiences. The birds on our campuses initiative is a great opportunity for participants (staff, students, academics, citizens, volunteers) to meet around their common interests and to reconnect with the enviroment and nature!"

Pr. Carlier also celebrates the role of citizens in studies like this. "It is impressive that according to studies conducted, the majority of data collected about birds is provided from citizens and local people and not from professionals. This offers accessibility and visibility to everyone, so you don't have to be a specialist to contribute! As I say regularly, even if you have less than half an hour in total to devote to this task, this time will be welcome. The iNaturalist platform is easy to use and supports you in identification. That international tool allows you to create a local collection project (for instance, from each university in the framework of CIVIS), insert your data and at the same time allows you to contribute to a global project which pools the data, compares them and visualises surveys at a European level".

As for the future of the project, Pr. Carlier hopes that before the end of the year, the initiative will continue to grow and create more societal impact by making further steps in  studying the evolution of bird populations locally with the contribution of more CIVIS universities!

For more information regarding the initiative, you can find below academic and staff contacts involved in the project:

  • The main point of contact is at AMU: Pascal Carlier, Academic Athologist, in charge of the Biodiv'AMU mission, member of the Laboratoire Population Envionnement Développement (LPED), Administrator of the Société Nationale de Protection de la Nature (SNPN) -
  • University of Bucharest: Cristina Andreea Staicu – Associate Professor at the Faculty of Biology
  • University of Glasgow: Dr Stewart White  Senior Lecturer at the School of Biodiversity, One Health and Veterinary Medicine – and Dr Davide Dominoni – Lecturer in Urban Ecology Physiology, Ageing & Welfare at the School of Biodiversity, One Health and Veterinary Medicine
  • Universidad Autónoma de Madrid: Cesar Agustin Lopez Santiago – Director of Sustainability
  • University of Lausanne: Mathilde Ythier – Scientific Outreach (Who already worked on a similar research project.)