The life and times of a home schooling mom of se7en + 1.

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Se7en+1 Set Out As Citizen Scientists in the Fynbos…

November 12th, 2015 · 8 Comments

Citizen Science is where volunteers from the public assist scientists in their research, either with data collection or actual observations. It is a way for scientists to collect a lot of data with the help of interested and committed parties. Projects vary in size and scope from small scale to national projects… from bird counts to whale watching, from leopard frog safety to observing the stars. If you google citizen science and your area you will be able to find local science projects that you can be a part of.

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Recently the Cape Citizen Science Project contacted us and asked us to join in and we just about leapt for joy at the opportunity. The Cape Citizen Science Project is a survey of plant disease in the Cape Floral Kingdom, particularly Fynbos. Our local area is a small and unique floral kingdom, packed with enormous diversity. The small area of this rich and unique floral kingdom means that the threat of an invasive disease is a serious one and an understanding of the problem is a critical undertaking.

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Studying plant disease is essential to the sustainable management of it. This past week we met up with our friendly scientist and a couple of botanists from Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens to learn how to take samples and to look for signs of plant disease in the plants at Kirstenbosch.

Let’s Meet The Players…

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The scientist behind the project, who taught us the ins and outs… his enthusiasm was contagious and I predict the microscope is going to be hauled out and renewed energy in our home school science department.

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The gang of eager citizen scientists…

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The super friendly protea expert, who is in charge of the protea section within the Botanical Gardens was our guide… leading us to locations where plants showing symptoms of disease could be found.

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And the head of the Arboretum, who was our guide last year, when we explored the Boomslang.

Location, Location, Location… Kirstenbosch

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Kirstenbosch is one of our absolute favourite places to visit: from dinosaurs and cycads, and exploring, it is no secret it is one of the best places in Cape Town to visit with kids. The incredible plants and beautiful gardens quite outshine any of the other features in the gardens… take a peek:

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While the folk from Kirstenbosch sorted out a plethora of the necessary permits and the behind the scenes organising, we got on with real live science…

Roots, Shoots and Pathogens…

Amidst the plants in the gardens we were shown plants that were demonstrating distinct signs of distress, areas where plants were dying and replanting wasn’t helping. We set out to see if the plants were infected with Phytophthora. Phytophthera is the Greek for Plant+destroyer, and is a tiny organism that causes a disease in plants. Think Irish Potato Famine. It is critical that we learn more about this pathogen and its effects on the Fynbos Ecosystem, which is home to so many unique species of not just plants but animals too.

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We began by looking for signs of Phytophthera…

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Learning what to look for… and how to take plant samples…

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A small scraping of the stem and a distinct line, demonstrates that the plant is diseased and dying from the roots up…

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Sample plants from a couple of locations were bagged along with important data such as: the name of the scientist, the name of the plant and the exact location of where the sample was taken for mapping purposes.

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After each sampling, all the instruments were cleaned and disinfected to prevent cross-contamination of pathogens.

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Moving on to the next location… to repeat the process.

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The Silver Tree Forest

The urgency of the project can be seen in the beautiful Silver Tree Forest…

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Where trees are experiencing obvious distress…

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There is clearly an critical problem…

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Can you imagine this view without the window of silver trees to look through…

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One citizen scientist was clearly concerned and taking notes.

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Samples were collected and bagged and triumphant citizen scientists were off to take a closer look…

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To the Lab

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Samples of the samples were carefully placed in pre-prepaired petri dishes…

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Careful labelling is essential…

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Each citizen scientist has a petri dish… waiting to see what grows in there and if the pathogen we are looking for is indeed the cause of the trouble in our region.

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Real Science by Citizen Scientists

There is nothing more inspiring to youngsters than real projects with real tools and real outcomes. Just as real art with great tools can inspire a young artist, so real science using real scientific processes can inspire the young scientist. If you want to know more about the project then pop over to the Cape Citizen Science Website for information and learning materials.

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Thank you so much to Cape Citizen Science for the invitation to join your project, and the folk at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens for showing us around and enabling us to work there.


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Tags: Green Living · Hiking · Outings · Science · Se7en at School

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