Reflecting on “Walks and Talks” – an engagement project

In late 2021 I organised a series of public events titled “Walks and Talks“. I was inspired by many of the guided nature walks I’ve been on as either a participant or host, particularly those in Hong Kong at the Lung Fu Shan Environmental Education Centre. In my events, I wanted to feature early career researchers as presenters, so that attendees can directly interact with people who are doing the research. I organised these events with support from a grant from the Ecology and Evolution division at the Australian National University.

I thought it’d be nice to write about my experience organising “Walks and Talks” and how it went. I hope it inspires others to organise similar events too.

Audrey Prasetya giving her talk

Each event consisted of three parts. It started with (1) an indoor talk by a presenter, (2) followed by a guided nature walk, (3) ending with a session back at the indoor venue with an opportunity to debrief, ask more questions and interact with some demonstration materials provided by the presenters.

The overall purpose of the event was to create a series of welcoming and educational events, whether they know a lot about nature or not. The intention of the event is also to increase diversity in engagement with nature. As an Australian born person with Chinese ancestry, I don’t see a lot of people with a similar background in environmental science (although they are definitely there and I have met some of them!). I wanted to create some “cool” events that would be appealing to a young adult demographic.

I reached out to Bonnie Koopmans, a Canberra based scientific illustrator and natural history artist to create some graphics which would hopefully signal that the events were aimed at a “younger” crowd (but not too young!). I think she did a wonderful job based on my very loose descriptions!

Art for “Walks and Talks” by Bonnie Koopmans

An important part of the project for me was to feature presenters who were from a culturally and linguistically diverse background. I wanted to highlight researchers who were minorities and doing interesting work – right here in Canberra. I only had enough funding to fund three events, so in the end the speakers were myself, Audrey Prasetya and Dr. Jess Fenker. It ended up being perfect. Audrey presented on her research taxa, which is birds, and Jess presented on her research taxa, which was lizards and geckos. I asked each of them for an animal they might want Bonnie to illustrate, and that’s how we got our animal selection. I selected Macarostola formosa, a leaf-rolling leaf-mining moth. Audrey selected the welcome swallow Hirundo neoxena, and Jess selected the grassland earless dragon Tympanocryptis lineata. These all occur in the ACT.

I reached out to a friend of mine who worked at the Canberra Environment Centre (CEC) to see if I could run my events there. Turns out it was the perfect venue, as it had everything we needed (tables, chairs, projector), was close to ANU and there was a lovely park we could explore right next door.

As a team, we planned our events for three consecutive Sundays, before the end of 2021. We promoted the events across our social medias, reached out to university groups and did what we could to advertise the event. We decided to manage the bookings via Eventbrite, which is a surprisingly handy tool for this kind of thing. We capped participation at 25 people per event, and to our surprise we got that many people signed up. It was great to see.

One of the display tables with reptile specimens, books and microscopes on it for attendees to ask us about

The actual events all went off without a hitch. I like to say that’s because I did a LOT of planning, but it was also fortunate that Audrey, Jess, Chrissie (my CEC friend) and/or Tina (an undergraduate student I recruited) were there to help each day. I think we’d had 2 or 3 in-person meetings before it all happened, and I think those helped with communication. I couldn’t have done it without such great and enthusiastic team members.

I was so glad to see how keen people were for the guided nature walk. I’d love to do more. I had allocated 40 minutes of time for the walk and it was rarely enough time – we’d always be finding something interesting and stopping to have a an extended discussion. Participants also enjoyed the debrief session, where they could bring some stuff from outside and look at it under a microscope – always a fun time. However I think 2 hours was probably the perfect amount of time for both the organising team and attendees.

Happy faces at one of our Walks and Talks events

Overall it was a great experience. I had an awesome time working with my team, there was so much support for each other. I would love to hold more Walks and Talks events, but alas I don’t feel comfortable holding them without being able to pay the people involved (including the speakers!). As my events target people from a minority background, and feature people from a minority background, I don’t want to create additional burdens by asking people to donate their time. So I am on the lookout for funding opportunities or partnerships to be able to hold more of these events. I have applied for some grants – but if you are a Canberra based institution and this post got you interested, do reach out. I’m happy to share my experiences. I hope to have some exciting announcements for 2022.

Introducing the “Australian Leaf Miners” iNaturalist Project

Are you using iNaturalist? It is one of the biggest online platforms for uploading records of observations of any thing in the natural world. If you are unfamiliar with iNaturalist, this page is an excellent read to understand how to use it .

As I embark on my PhD, I realised that there is so little information about leaf miners in Australia out there! But they are a group which can be explored by anyone who has ever picked up a leaf.

The more I learn about them the more I have become fascinated by them, and I think it’s a shame we don’t know more. I know there are people who are also interested in leaf mines (some of them have reached out to me!), so I have decided to launch the Australian Leaf Miners project on iNaturalist. Projects on iNaturalist are a good way of collating observations under a topic or theme, and will make the records easy to find for me.

In this post I will outline how to submit an observation to the project. It is intended for people who have never used iNaturalist in addition to people who are familiar with it. Happy snapping!

How to Submit an Observation to the Australian Leaf Miners Project

Firstly, you must be a member of iNaturalist to submit an observation. If it is your first time submitting an observation to iNaturalist, I suggest you follow this post about how to upload photos from your phone (through the app) or through the website. Then you can join the Australian Leaf Miners project to observations to it.

Take Photos of Your Leaf

Take photos of the leaf with the presumed leaf mine for your iNaturalist submission (I will make a post about how to tell if something is a leaf mine later).

If possible, take at least three different photos: top view (full leaf), bottom view (full leaf), and a back lit photo.

Two easy methods for taking back lit photos:

Leaf mine held up against the bright sky
Using a phone to back light a picture of a leaf mine
  • Hold the leaf (via the stem or branch) against the sky/sun. Perfect source of light!
  • Use a phone/torch/headlamp to light the leaf from behind.

A back lit photo gives a suggestion of whether a leaf miner is present, and how big it might be (useful information for my research).

Advanced: Close up photos of the “beginning” and “end” of a mine are useful too as the way a leaf miner exits the mine can be diagnostic, but this information is difficult to capture without a macro lens (I use an Olympus TG-5 camera).

Submit your observation to the “Australian Leaf Miners” project

You can add an observation to the project through one of two methods.

The Australian Leaf Miners project banner from the website

Method 1: Adding an observation by uploading it directly to the project by going to the project page as above and clicking “Add Observations”.

Method 2: Adding an observation to a project by typing in “Australian Leaf Miners” to the Projects field, often found on the bottom right hand side of the observation record.

Add additional information using the Observation Fields

A sample of some Observation Fields for this project

For every observation, there is an option to add Observation Fields. These are fields which provide useful information on host plant identity and may give clues on ecology. I have made the Host Plant ID a requirement (this is important information for identifying a leaf miner), but don’t worry if you can’t identify your plant, you can either:

a) Leave the Host Plant ID as “Kingdom: Plantae”

or

b) Upload a separate observation to get the plant identified. Useful types of photos to include for plant ID are discussed on this page. You can then link the observations by editing the description of the leaf mine observation to include a link to the plant observation, or you can use the Similar Observation Set Observation Field to link the records.

What about rearing out the larvae?

I welcome everyone to have a go at rearing out leaf miners. Whilst I personally don’t have a guide for how I rear my leaf miners out (yet), this one by Charley Eiseman is worth reading.

As for how to link your records, I suggest keeping track of timings of when individuals have pupated and emerged. I would put any larvae/pupae images on at the same observation and maybe make a separate observation for the adult. These can all be linked using the Similar Observation Set Observation Field. The method for linking observations is up to you, but the most important thing is that they are linked.

Be aware: In Australia, you must have a relevant collection permit for your state or territory which allows you to collect plant specimens (which is what leaf mines are). If collecting on private property, then you need permission from the landowner or caretakers.

If you rear out any moths then I suggest you also include your observations in the Lepidoptera Life Cycles (Australia) iNaturalist project.

2021 – Year of the Blog

It feels a bit strange to have a blog in 2021, but it seems like things from the early 2000s are in again, so here we are!

An adult leaf mining moth (Macarostola sp.)
Two leaf mining moth larvae in a leaf (everything else is frass – poop)

Since starting my PhD in February (more info about me and my project), I’ve been making a lot of fun discoveries about leaf miners, Australian insects and Australian plants. I think my office mates are sick of hearing me talk about my project so I decided to start a blog to share my observations.

I was actually inspired by similar blogs such as BugTracks, which is a fantastic blog authored by Charley Eiseman, who is based in North America.

Planned blog posts include summaries on my attempts at rearing insects, my thoughts on being a PhD student, resources I find helpful etc.

If this sounds like a blog you’d like to follow: bookmark this page, subscribe to updates and/or follow me on social media. I’ll be posting there to let people know when I’ve updated this blog.