Sustainable Urban Growth, Bells Creek
The University of Queensland
Bells Creek, Queensland
Start date: 07 February 2018
End date: 22 May 2019
Australian Government funding:
- Stockland Development Pty Ltd
- Queensland University of Technology
- Sunshine Coast Regional Council
- Education and public health
- Natural environmental data and measurement (air quality, dust, noise, waterways)
- Community engagement
- Environmental monitoring
- Augmented/Virtual reality
- Data Management (Data platform, open data, data privacy and security, blockchains, standards)
- Wireless sensor networks
- Environmental sensors
Using novel bioacoustic technology, this project monitored the impact of competition on threatened frogs in restored and newly-created habitats on a new residential development site. Through this project, species-specific recognizers that identify frog species calls within environmental recordings were developed to facilitate the processing of large quantities of acoustic data. Making use of open data platforms, the project also focused on engaging local community groups and schools in frog conservation through various workshops, events and expos showcasing new smart surveying technologies.
This project addressed a key environmental challenge for Australia: how to maintain biodiversity as urbanisation expands. Urban development is known to harm species across the globe, so socio-economic development needs to be balanced with environmental protection. In response to this, policies to protect, restore and create habitats have proliferated worldwide. Yet whether these actually work remains poorly understood and is rarely evaluated. The project site, Aura, is an urban development site where urbanisation and conservation needs overlap as threatened wallum frogs occur in habitats across the site. To protect these species, Stockland Development Pty Ltd has protected a number of wallum ponds across Aura and built additional new artificial ponds to minimise the impacts of habitat loss associated with the urban development. These ponds, however, face potential invasion from competing species, which can threaten the persistence of wallum frogs in the area. Thus, this project aimed to monitor wallum frog species across these newly created and retained ponds, assessing the impact of competition on their persistence. Wallum frogs, however, occur within sensitive breeding habitat areas (wallum wetlands), and so the project aimed to develop and implement novel bioacoustic monitoring techniques that minimize disturbance to these habitats. Further, as the project is based within an emerging residential community, engagement with local citizens was imperative to increase awareness of local threatened species and ensure their continued protection.
A bioacoustic monitoring technique (Acoustic Spatial Capture-Recapture; aSCR) that relies on passive recording devices was implemented to minimise disturbance to habitat areas. This technique provided accurate within-pond species distributions and population size estimates. Species-specific recognisers were also developed to facilitate the processing of large quantities of acoustic data.
To engage community members, researchers led workshops and events, and attended data expos where smart survey technologies were showcased. Researchers took 360-degree photographs from within the wallum wetlands that can be augmented with information such as frog calling activities and viewed through virtual reality lenses. These photographs, together with frog calling data, were provided to the school for learning activities, and will be used at future community events to allow citizens to ‘walk through’ the breeding habitat of endangered wallum frogs. A new ‘Frog Box’ learning tool for classroom use was also developed under this project and is being used in the Baringa State Primary School Year 5 and 6 classrooms. Acoustic data collected within this project were integrated into the boxes, which play videos of various frog calls every 15 minutes.
The frog monitoring conducted under this grant has led to the refining of the aSCR monitoring methods, which are now being implemented at other sites (across Aura and in National Parks) to monitor wallum frog populations and the impacts of threats. Within-pond distribution data have been obtained, allowing researchers to assess the impact of competition on wallum frog persistence.
Engagement with the local community, and in particular, Baringa State Primary School, has increased local community awareness of the threatened frogs that exist at Aura. A Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Year 5 and 6 Wallum Frog unit was developed as part of this engagement, with researchers leading workshops and informative talks to supplement student learning and project data was integrated into learning activities. Further to this, the frog boxes developed under this project help students learn and identify different frog calls, which increases their awareness of the diversity of species in their local environment. Students were involved in the development and construction process of the boxes and will continue to be engaged in further projects around this new technology (i.e. integrated game-learning development). Ultimately, this project allowed the students from Baringa State Primary School to use their environment as a “living laboratory” that feeds into their STEM curriculum. The awareness raised amongst these school children will extend to their parents and siblings, i.e., families living within the greater Aura region, as two Frog Boxes will act as class ‘pets’ to be taken home by different students each week.
Initially, researchers aimed to engage community members and students through workshops in which they were asked to ‘tag’ the frog calls that they could identify. It was evident after the first informative talk that more ‘ground work’ was needed and that a more engaging activity was needed to maintain community involvement. Thus, the project evolved to encompass the ‘Frog box’ and virtual habitat component, which have been largely successful.
The project has numerous conservation, community and technological outcomes. Through this project researchers developed species-specific recognisers, which will benefit the ongoing monitoring of these species. Further, the population and species distribution monitoring methods developed through this project are not only applicable to wallum frogs, but can also be applied to other, vocal species such as birds and some insects. The data and results obtained from this project have led to one peer-reviewed scientific publication, two papers currently in review and one in development. The main scientific findings of these papers will be used to help inform future conservation decisions on Aura regarding threat mitigation.
Community engagement has been a major focus of this project, and the acid frog STEM unit at Baringa State Primary School has been a key outcome. The development of tangible engagement tools, such as the Frog Box and the Virtual Reality habitat experience, have supported (and will continue to support) community involvement in this project.
Name: Berndt Janse van Rensburg