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Cape Citizen Science: a UP-SU Collaboration to protect SA's Natural Resources
Author: Joey Hulbert
Published: 13/10/2016

Cape Citizen Science (http://citsci.co.za) is an initiative led by Affiliate Research Student Joey Hulbert. The project was initiated in collaboration between the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute at University of Pretoria and the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology at Stellenbosch University. Cape Citizen Science is a project to engage the public in research about plant disease in the fynbos. The project invites anyone and everyone to contribute samples from practically any outdoor adventure in the Western Cape Province. 

 

"Turn your outdoor adventures into scientific expeditions by traversing to one of the sites…" identified in their 'Go Outdoors for Science' campaign (http://citsci.co.za/go).

 

Although the project focuses on the fynbos biome, the findings are expected to benefit other natural resource productions and agricultural industries because it focuses on a group of plant disease causing microbes called Phytophthora—a group that threaten food security and biodiversity conservation around the world. Phytophthora are known as plant destroyers, they are responsible for diseases such as the Irish Potato Famine, Sudden Oak Death, and Ramorum Blight. One of the primary objectives of Cape Citizen Science is to discover the Phytophthora species present in the fynbos. Hulbert hypothesizes there are many species, several which are known in other parts of the world but currently undetected in South Africa, and several that have never been discovered or described. Thus, citizen participation could lead to the discovery of new species.  

 

"You be the scientist, your contributions could lead to the discovery of new species!"

 

Perhaps the most merit of the project is the potential to detect the new arrival of a Phytophthora species shortly after its introduction, promoting the rapid response and enhancing the potential to control the species or prevent it from moving into a natural system such as the fynbos.

 

"Become a pathogen hunter, help conserve South Africa's biodiversity"

 

Five indigenous species rated as critically endangered on the SANBI Redlist website (http://redlist.sanbi.org) are known to be susceptible to Phytophthora cinnamomi, a species originally found on cinnamon trees and believed to be the primary cause of protea root rot in the fynbos. Of particular concern is the Cape cedar tree (Widdringtonia cedarbergensis), which has had a 94% decline of mature individuals within a permit plot study in the last 35 years according to the SANBI Redlist website. Cape Citizen Science provides a platform to study the effects of Phytophthora on this species and welcomes other students to lead such projects. Understanding the role of Phytophthora in the decline could help conserve species such as the Cape cedar tree.