Website encourages conservation

Newlands biologist Dr David Evans, has created a website that uses citizen science to conserve plant species.

A Newlands biologist has warned that some plant species run the risk of extinction if we don’t do more to study and conserve them, and he’s created a website to help all of us do just that.

Dr David Evans is passionate about plant conservation and his website, Casabio, is opening up a new front in the struggle to protect plant species by getting the public to act as citizen scientists, recording plants they come across.

People can upload pictures of a plant they are curious about to the site along with information about where they found it. If they can’t identify it, they can leave that section blank in the hope that another visitor to the site will know.

Dr Evans said the website made it possible for everyone to take part in the conservation efforts, especially now during the drought.

“Things driving the need for Casabio include climate change. In Richtersveld, temperatures are predicted to be 2 degrees higher in summer and 10 degrees higher during the daytime in winter, which lead to 80 percent of plants dying outright. Things like this have never happened before in Richtersveld.

“Just because things are okay here, does not mean we should not be concerned. Myself and a sponsor looked for drosera spathulata, a flagship species, which occurs in an area 100km from here and couldn’t find it. This flagship species, which is important, was gone. Whether it’s extinct for good, we don’t know. They were beyond ankle height before the drought,” said Dr Evans.

While the authorities are now planning to drill into aquifers to find an alternative source of water, Dr Evans said the impact that would have on our plants had not been assessed.

The City, he said, did not have the capability to do a wide-scale assessment of plant species, but Casabio could do that if everyone got involved and monitored plant life in their communities.

“You photograph plants, use your GPS to say where you found them, and then you upload pictures in a batch. You then group species from a specific area together and click finish,” he said.

“When you submit info it becomes significant for conservation, education and research which are our three pillars,” said Dr Evans.

The idea for Casabio was born after Dr Evans realised the connection between knowing the plant and knowing the name of the plant and then identifying where it was found.

After recognising a plant he had been informed about, he started to recognise the plant on his daily route.

“This was the turning point for me. Since then, I have this compendium in my mind of plants that I’ve seen in my life. Every time I go up in the mountain or anywhere in my neighbourhood, I’m mapping plants.

“When I die, that knowledge goes with me, unless I can share it digitally. That’s what Casabio is about.”

Casabio has been in the making for the past 16 years and will launchtomorrow Friday September 1. The company is registered as a public benefit organisation so donors can get tax deductions, if they contribute to the initiative.

Visit www.casabio.org to find out more.