By Lucie Vítková, Czech University of Life Sciences, Faculty of Forestry and Wood Science, Department of Forest Ecology
Biodiversity is a frequently used term that everyone who is interested in nature must have come across. It can be expressed in many different forms and ways which we, at the Department of Forest Ecology at the Czech University of Life Sciences, know quite thoroughly since we have been very lucky to focus, amongst other things, on very exciting and demanding research of old-growth forests that are important hotspots of biodiversity. Why is that? Well, old-growth forests have not been managed by humans but have developed on their own terms by means of natural forces. They contain many habitats used by a wide range of species and are home to many animal and plant species.
Although scientists have many sophisticated and hi-tech ways to measure and record biodiversity, our team at the Department of Forest Ecology has developed the mobile phone App ‘Forest diversity’, in response to EFI’s Integrate project efforts. The app can be used by pretty much anyone to monitor biodiversity regardless of age and occupation! When you are outdoors to relax, walk your dog or just spend some quality time with your beloved ones, you can contribute towards biodiversity monitoring by means of using our App.
What are microhabitats and why are they important?
The ‘Forest diversity’ App is a comprehensible tool that can be used for microhabitats recording. Microhabitats are easily spotted structures found on individual trees, such as cavities, rot holes, insect galleries, tree injuries and exposed wood, crown deadwood, fungi fruiting bodies, epiphytes, etc. They are important for biodiversity as a wide range of species depend on them for e.g., shelter, mating or as a source of food at a certain part of their life cycle. It is quite clear that they fulfil many important roles.
The App provides a user-friendly interface that allows collecting and submitting data on the occurrence of microhabitats in forests, urban areas, as well as in open landscapes. Educating the public on the importance of microhabitats for biodiversity was the major rationale behind its development along with raising awareness about the importance of tree microhabitat protection and responsible behaviour in their vicinity. However, the App was also designed to actively engage members of the public in Citizen Science activities. This way, it will gather valuable data to feed an online database that is freely available to anyone interested in seeing how many trees with microhabitats are in the proximity of their home, walking path in a local park, or in their favourite forest. Nonetheless, this database will also serve scientific purposes once enough reliable entries are available.
We wanted to develop an interactive App that is comprehensive, user-friendly and ignites passion about biodiversity related to microhabitat trees. This aim was achieved, and not only thanks to positive user feedback. It also felt very rewarding to see my 5-year old son feeling more excited than ever while running around our favourite forest and searching for ‘homes for bugs’, woodpecker cavities, and big dead branches. The colourful forest species gallery on a webpage related to the App was quite an enjoyment for him since he very quickly picked the species he would like to see more frequently in our forests. The option to play an interactive ‘pick a pair’ memory game on the webpage was also quite an amusement for him.
What does the future hold?
Since we live in a fast-evolving era requiring constant improvement and development of modern technology, we wish to keep updating the App in order to stretch its potential to the maximum. We have been developing specialised tools that will be available to advanced users (e.g., foresters, nature conservationists, etc.) for specific biodiversity monitoring activities. Our online database will also form the foundation for future scientific projects focusing on biodiversity monitoring. Although the App is currently available only in English and Czech, we plan to include other languages to make it more widely available to all biodiversity enthusiasts!
Oh, did I forget to say the App is freely downloadable from Apple Store and Google Play? Why not downloading it and checking out which microhabitats can be found next time you are outdoors? A short must-see teaser is available on our Youtube channel Forest diversity | Mapping of habitat trees.