“Biodiversity is the Real Winner”
A team of university students in Sri Lanka has virtually swept the third annual University BioQuest competition - a global competition in which university staff, students and communities around the world compete to map biodiversity through a mobile gaming app.
This year’s competition involved 50 teams in 14 different countries, from Australia to India to the USA, and generated over 94000 sightings and identifications. Most the resulting species data is shared with national and global biodiversity databases for scientific research and conservation.
“Some of the discoveries where simply incredible,” says Mallika Robinson, director and co-founder of QuestaGame, the gaming app which the players use during the competition. “The Peradeniya team was finding new genera and species not recorded previously in the wild. But it wasn’t just Sri Lankan players finding cool life forms. Players from Laos, India, Malaysia, Australia made some interesting discoveries as well. One student found an earless dragon near Adelaide - a species that’s hard to spot.”
There was no doubt the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka, first timers in the competition, stood out among the field. They not only took the champion spotters team trophy, but racked up the top score for identifications as well.
“The game has changed our lifestyles,” says Anushka Tennakoon, captain of the Peradeniya team. “We’ve learned to enjoy the environment around us. It’s opened our eyes.”
A Peradeniya player named Thiranya concurred and credited the leadership of Tennakoon.
“He gave us a lot of guidance,” says Thiranya. “The game totally changed our way of thinking about biodiversity. Now we feel an even greater need to protect it.”
The top individual awards, meanwhile, also went to a Peradeniya player named “Dodo,” who won both the champion spotter and champion identifier awards. Even the highest scoring find, a stick insect named Trachythorax sparaxes, went to a player named “bogzzi,” also from the University of Peradeniya.
“The stick insect was identified by Dr. Paul Brock,” explains Robinson. “The very researcher who has recently re-verified the taxonomy of the species. It was the first record of the insect on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, which is the global map for species distributions.”
But Sri Lanka didn’t sweep the competition entirely. The most valuable team award went to a group of tutors from the University of Adelaide, led by a player named “octonaughts”; while Macquarie University, led by Jenny Donald, scored second place in identifications and third place in spotting.
Melbourne University, led by “QueenoftheBugs” and “Phascolarctos,” took second place in spotting; and several other teams performed at a very high level.
“The competition seems to get more competitive every year,” says Robinson. “More players, better sightings, higher levels of expertise, higher quality data.”
“The idea behind the competition,” she adds, “is to connect more people to nature, increase environmental literacy, and support biodiversity conservation with real data. If the University BioQuest is any indication, it seems to be working. Biodiversity is the real winner here.”
The complete results can be viewed at http://questagame.com/unibioquest