Step 1: Baseline Data
To identify any changes, we need something to compare these changes against, which is what we call baseline data. This is the information about what the area was like before or immediately after you started your project.
To create some baseline data we will need to collate information on:
- Species diversity, or how many different species are present.
- The abundance, or total number of each of those species.
- Habitat use, how animals are using different habitats.
This data may already exist from Activity 2: Wildlife Detective or you can download one of the apps listed below.
Step 2: Organising your Data
Create an online database to ensure that you do not lose or misplace any data. You can make your own spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel or similar.
When saving your file, use labels and file names which are logical and specific, for example ‘Wildlife_Survey’ is a bit vague, while Autumn_Bird_Survey_2020 gives you a lot more information about what the dataset contains.
You may like to create different data tables for different animal types (like reptiles, mammals and birds), to keep similar observations together.
Entering the data you collected from different surveys in the same spreadsheet allows you to make direct comparisons and ensure it is all in one place. Just make sure you don’t misspell anything!
Step 3: Keep a Clear Record of all Metadata
Metadata is data about data and usually includes notes about the location that data was collected, the date and time of day it occurred, and other conditions such as the weather, human activity, pollution levels, the survey method used, and the names of the persons who collected it.
Metadata is incredibly important as it provides context for others to interpret your dataset. This helps give us clues as to why surveys on different days could be different, for example because animals were sheltering over winter, or because there were lots of people around that were scaring the animals away. Metadata provides vital information to help explain patterns of animal movements and behaviours. You may choose to include the metadata within your main dataset or as a separate supporting document file.
Step 4: Contributing your Data
Your surveys provide really important information and can contribute to numerous citizen science programs. For example, any frog calls could be uploaded to the Frog ID app to assist with monitoring frogs around Australia, or your photos could be used in a similar way by being uploaded to Inaturalist or Questagame, to build a picture of species occurrence in an area. A great part of using these apps is that firstly, there is a community to assist in species identification (you don’t have to know what an animal or plant is to upload or contribute) and secondly, once verified this record is added to the Atlas of Living Australia – the central hub for all species records.
There are also opportunities to participate in organised surveys such as the Great Aussie Bird Count or Pollinator Week when you can focus on specific animal groups and be part of a national survey effort! Find these on the useful links document.
Step 5: Analysing your Data
Depending on what your interest and background is, analysing your data can be quite complex (for example to contribute to a university research project) or relatively simple.
Your data can tell you about the diversity of species that are present, as well as which species are dominating and what are missing (that you expected to find but didn’t). For example, territorial birds such as magpies, butcher birds and noisy minors will chase many other bird species away – particularly little birds. Knowing this information could help you focus your efforts on creating more little bird habitat, and will provide a baseline to compare species diversity against in the future.