Wild Orchid Watch (WOW) is a national citizen science project collecting photos and detailed habitat and environmental information about Australian native orchids. The WOW app is now available for use by scientists, citizen scientists and orchid enthusiasts!

WOW is a custom-built app designed to assist orchid enthusiasts to take photos and collect associated habitat data. WOW is a project on the iNaturalist platform; an online ‘community for naturalists’ with millions of users worldwide, a 10-year track record and rapidly growing popularity in Australia.

Orchids are excellent indicators of wider environmental change. They are dependent on an intricate system of mycorrhizal fungi and invertebrate pollinators for their survival and reproduction, and when an ecosystem is disturbed, the native orchids are some of the first species to disappear.

WOW will tap into the growing community appetite to be involved in science using citizen science methods and smartphone technology. There are thousands of knowledgeable, passionate, connected and concerned orchid enthusiasts in every state and territory in Australia. Many of these people spend hours photographing orchids and sharing information in online groups. 

Associate Professor Ben Sparrow, project leader with WOW, The University of Adelaide and TERN at the Waite campus says “while scientists bring the rigor and expertise, the professionals can’t cover enough ground and they can’t do it frequently enough to answer the questions we need answers to.”

Volunteers comprise “a huge number of people, spatially distributed, who can go out frequently. That counters traditional science’s problems and if you can bring the two communities together, it’s a win-win.”

The value of volunteers’ input is underestimated, Sparrow says. “Some of these people are very, very switched on with what they’re doing… perhaps something that’s not properly acknowledged by the professional science community.” You can read Ben’s interview about Citizen Science and WOW in the most recent issue of Cosmos Science Magazine.

WOW, University of Adelaide and TERN Ecologist, Dr. Greg Guerin says “Data collected by the WOW project will be available to researchers so they can answer questions such as ‘what factors contribute to population decline or reproductive failure in orchids’ and to help with the notoriously difficult field of orchid taxonomy.”

Orchid data will also be available to state government data managers, having the potential to influence policy, planning and on-ground land management decisions.

The WOW app launch is the culmination of a unique three year partnership between citizen scientist orchid enthusiasts and scientists, including ecologists, tech developers and science communication specialists at the University of Adelaide.

WOW is funded by the Australian Government Science Engagement Programme and managed by the University of Adelaide.

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