Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Become a ‘bush macco’


STUNNING: Glasswing butterfly —Photos courtesy Howard Nelson

Mark Fraser

Trinbagonians love to macco (also spelt maco). For non-Trinbagonians, to macco means to mind people’s business. We pride ourselves on our highly developed maccoing skills. Most people don’t appreciate being maccoed, but there is a way to put our maccoing to good use.

Right in our backyards, some serious bacchanal is happening and we’re not talking about the neighbour’s new boyfriend. This bacchanal buzzes, crawls, blooms and flutters. We share our islands with some pretty amazing creatures and if we pay attention, their business is worth maccoing too. 

Do you have a fruit tree in your yard? What kind of tree? How many types of birds use it? If so, when do the bird wars begin for the mango or sapodilla? Do the mango trees flower throughout the year? How about butterflies; when do they show up or have they disappeared? Perhaps you are paying attention. If so, what can you do with the information or when you see something at your school, on a hike or at your workplace?

What is Bush Maco? 

This is where Bush Maco comes in. Bush Maco is a user-friendly website for anyone in T&T to document nature sightings. It’s like local celebrity spotting but instead of Kees or Machel, the celebrities are our local wildlife from the common kiskadee to the rare ocelot. The website is an example of citizen science which is a kind of crowd-sourcing for scientific data collection. Citizen science involves everyday citizens collecting information and reporting on it. It has a long tradition in the birding world, where initiatives like the international Audubon Christmas Bird Count provide valuable information on bird populations. There’s also a long tradition in the world of astronomy, where enthusiastic amateurs watch the night sky and report on exciting celestial phenomena.

Bush Maco is the brainchild of Drs Howard and Ellie Devenish-Nelson. Dr Howard Nelson is a wildlife ecologist and university lecturer and Dr Ellie Devenish-Nelson is an ecologist. This nature-loving husband and wife team have worked for many years on T&T’s biodiversity. 

According to Dr H Nelson, “Bush Maco offers a place for citizen scientists to document, track and share their nature sightings, so that we can use these to better understand and protect our wildlife. We all observe nature every day in our gardens, schools, workplaces and these observations can be really helpful for learning more about our natural world.” 

Why macco the bush?

For starters, T&T’s biodiversity rocks! For two tiny specks on the globe we have nearly 2,500 plant species, over 1,700 animal species, and over 150 migratory species, among others. Unfortunately, many of these may be under threat. The challenge is that it’s too much work for scientists to track. As Dr E Nelson points out, “We still know surprisingly little about how many of our species live, how many there are and how they use habitats.” 

It’s also a way to track the health of T&T’s ecosystems. Medical practitioners use signs to diagnose problems and prescribe treatments. You may notice that your dog has not been eating for several days. Not eating is a sign that indicates there is a problem. For ecologists, if fruit trees do not flower for several years this may be a sign of an ecological problem, perhaps with pollinating species. But if no one is watching and recording then how can we know if there’s a problem? As Dr H Nelson explains: “By having lots of data we can work out if species life cycles (such as flowering times, breeding seasons and migration patterns) are changing with time — something that scientists call phenology. For example, if we have lots of long-term data on the same animals or plants, we can see if they are affected by disturbance or environmental change.”

Join the Bush Maco movement

Bush Maco empowers us by giving us a voice to contribute to T&T’s ecology through citizen science. Nature talks to us. Sometimes she whispers, sometimes she scolds, and other times she screams. Bush Maco is a way for us to hear her. There is a scientist in every one of us. Dr E Nelson emphasises that we should not be put off by the word ‘science’. “The contributions of citizen scientists are becoming increasingly important in mainstream science. By participating in Bush Maco you will build up your own personal record of your local biodiversity, as well as learn about the diversity of the whole country. We’re interested in all your observations — every nature sighting is important — whether it’s a kiskadee nesting in your garden or a poui flowering at your school.”

Why not make a Bush Maco lime? This way we get to engage in two of our favourite things, liming and maccoing, all for a good cause.

For more details visit Bush Maco online (www.bushmaco.org) or on Facebook.