If we build it, will peripatus come?
Scientists from Catchments Otago (Otago University Research Theme) and Otago Museum have teamed up with three Dunedin primary school Partners, Abbotsford, Green Island and St Francis Xavier Schools, to investigate urban greenspaces for peripatus and general insect biodiversity, thanks to a year-long $20,000 grant from the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment’s Participatory Science Platform (PSP).
A mysterious, ancient velvet worm emerging at night to shoot its insect prey with poisonous spit before devouring them sounds like a villain in a child’s fantasy (or perhaps horror) story. Yet in 2011, Dunedin’s very own velvet worm peripatus brought the new Caversham motorway development to a grinding halt. Its preferred home, damp, dark, rotten habitats, stood in the proposed roadways’ path. Subsequent studies of peripatus habitats across urban spaces identified key factors for assisting with conservation efforts, yet how widespread are they across Dunedin and do habitats best for peripatus also show the highest insect biodiversity?
Students will help scientists identify habitat features peripatus prefer that also have the highest diversity of insects. For example, what factors make one place more desirable over another for peripatus to live? The students will compare these sites to findings on their own school grounds and work to create such habitats.
Using their research findings, children within each Partner School will work together to develop flyers about ‘creating insect-friendly urban environments at home’, helping peripatus conservation efforts and overall invertebrate diversity by increasing suitable habitats. Creating the flyers will comprise curriculum aspects of story writing, maths, statistics, art and digital technology in addition to the science, highlighting the importance of all components in performing and communicating real science. The flyers will be launched by the children at events timed around International Biological Diversity Day in May 2019 and include displays of desirable peripatus-friendly urban habitats.
Project funding from PSP includes a workshop for the involved teachers focussing on skill development for incorporating science into the everyday classroom, teacher release hours, student field trip costs, scientist support, sampling equipment and flyer production.