'Citizen scientists' help out in biodiversity research

169 volunteers take part in wildlife survey at Pasir Ris Park as part of BioBlitz movement
Audrey Tan Straits Times 21 Mar 16;

The critters of Pasir Ris Park were joined on March 12 by more than 200 researchers and volunteers, who spent 12 hours documenting the biodiversity as part of an international citizen science movement.

From midnight to noon, they fanned out over various habitats within the 70ha park in eastern Singapore to count and record the number of ants, birds, butterflies, fireflies and wildflowers, among others.

In total, an estimated 265 species of plants and animals - including the rare buffy fish owl and Svistella chekjawa - a species of cricket that can be found only in Singapore - were identified there.

Dr Lena Chan, director of organiser National Parks Board's National Biodiversity Centre, said: "We were quite heartened that in this short period, 60 bird species were recorded out of the 110 bird species found in Pasir Ris Park. It is... an encouraging indication of the health of the biodiversity."

The 169 volunteers, led by 47 researchers and naturalists from institutions such as the National University of Singapore (NUS), NParks and the Nature Society (Singapore), took part as part of BioBlitz.

Originating from the United States, this movement involves members of the public teaming up with researchers to record as many species of flora and fauna as possible within a specific location and timeframe.

Pasir Ris Park was chosen for the inaugural run here as it is an urban park that comprises a variety of other habitats, such as mangrove forests and intertidal areas.

"Through this event, we hope to glean data that will help us better understand the biodiversity at Pasir Ris Park and, at the same time, encourage the community to learn more about our natural heritage and contribute to organised research efforts as citizen scientists," Dr Chan said.

The event is part of NParks' Community in Nature Biodiversity Survey@Parks series, which gives the community the chance to learn from taxonomic experts.

Assistant Professor John Ascher from the NUS biological sciences department led the survey to document bees and wasps with independent researcher and translator John Lee.

Prof Ascher said citizen science initiatives such as BioBlitz are helpful for the study of specific groups of plants or animals, as academics may sometimes get caught up with lab work and not venture out into the field as much as they would like.

"There is very rich fauna in the tropics, but certain groups of animals, such as insects, are still not that well known. So citizen scientists and scientists are all trying to discover something new," he said.

Programme manager Joe See, 41, took part in the bee and wasp survey with his 10-year-old son Kayden as he believes it is healthy for children to be exposed to nature.

When asked why he chose to join the survey, Kayden said: "It's fun, I get to look at the bees. People always step on insects and crush them, but I'll tell them not to."

Volunteers and researchers fanned out over Pasir Ris Park to document the biodiversity there on March 12. Here are five animals spotted during the 12-hour BioBlitz.


Wasps from the genus Megascolia were found within the mangroves at Pasir Ris Park. Despite their formidable appearance, these wasps are solitary and harmless as they do not attack humans.


Stichodactyla haddoni

This marine animal was found at the intertidal area of Pasir Ris Park - the coastal zone between the highest and lowest tidemarks.


Paradoxurus hermaphroditus

Common palm civets are omnivores, and eat the fruits of the fishtail palm and seed pods of the rain tree, as well as small snakes, small birds, insects and rats.


Svistella chekjawa

Less than 1cm in length, this cricket can be found only in Singapore's mangrove forests. During the BioBlitz, it was found in the 6ha mangrove forest in Pasir Ris Park. It was first discovered at Chek Jawa, Pulau Ubin, in 2012.


Fordonia leucobalia

This species of snake is one of the few snakes known to pull apart its prey, including crabs, instead of swallowing them whole. It is endangered in Singapore.

Audrey Tan

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