If we build it, will peripatus come?
A community science project supporting real-world ecology and conservation science in the primary classroom curriculum by examining and creating habitats around town for the unique Dunedin velvet worm.
A mysterious ancient velvet worm emerging at night to shoot its invertebrate prey with poisonous spit before devouring them sounds like a child’s fantasy story. Yet in 2011, the Dunedin peripatus (or velvet worm) could have brought the new Caversham motorway development to a grinding halt, as its preferred damp home amongst urban debris stood in the proposed roadways’ path. Since then, assessments of peripatus resource use in urban landscapes have identified key habitat factors to assist with conservation efforts. However, how widespread are peripatus across Dunedin and do habitats best for peripatus also show the highest invertebrate biodiversity?
Primary school students from Dunedin will assess urban greenspaces for key peripatus habitat factors and overall invertebrate biodiversity and compare these sites to their own school grounds. Working with scientists from Catchments Otago (University of Otago) and the Otago Museum, the children will identify habitat features Dunedin peripatus prefer that also show the highest invertebrate biodiversity and work to create such habitats on their school grounds.
With funding support from the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment’s Participatory Science Platform (PSP), the Otago Museum and Catchments Otago will help the children develop flyers on ‘creating invertebrate-friendly urban environments at home’, to help increase available habitats for Dunedin peripatus. Flyers will be launched by the children at an event timed around International Biological Diversity Day in May 2019 and include displays of desirable peripatus-friendly urban habitats.