"Citizen scientists" to find missing pieces of Australia's biodiversity

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Sydney, Feb 15 (ANI): Reports indicate that scientists and volunteers will spend the next three years surveying the far-flung corners of the continent to find the missing pieces of Australia's animal and plant diversity.

According to a report in Sydney Morning Herald, the 10 million dollar Bush Blitz program will send research teams to remote national reserves throughout the country in a search for new species, and to better document those already known.

Groups of 10 to 12 scientists, together with volunteer "citizen scientists" and support staff, will conduct six major surveys each year.

In the process, the teams will be building a better snapshot of the plant and animal life in the national reserves, which make up 11 per cent of Australia's land mass.

After launching the program at a national reserve in Darkwood in northern NSW, Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett said that the surveys would help uncover some of the thousands of native species that have yet to be documented.

"Bush Blitz is nature discovery on a huge scale - teams of scientists will scour hundreds of reserves and expect to find hundreds of species that are completely new to science," he said.

"Australia is home to more than 560,000 native species, many found nowhere else on earth, yet only one quarter of this biodiversity has been scientifically documented," he added.

Garrett toured a survey camp at Darkwood, in the New England National Park, where he was introduced to a recently caught barred frog, a swain's leaf-tailed gecko, a golden crown snake and a brown tree snake.

"Quite often we have a sense that the environment is under some pressure and threat and that's true," Garrett said.

"But what we don't have as much of a sense of is the already great expanse of species there. That is becoming filled in with this type of scientific effort," he added.

International conservation group Earthwatch will help manage the research sites, and co-ordinate the volunteer "citizen scientists".

According to Earthwatch Australia's Executive Director, Richard Gilmore, it was those volunteers, and links with government and business, that made such a large project possible.

"(Bush Blitz is) bringing together business, and community groups, and government, and volunteers, in a way that probably hasn't been done before. This is an important large-scale project that just couldn't be done by one group, or by scientists alone," he said. (ANI)

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