Read about my research.
Globally agriculture takes up over 35% of the terrestrial surface of the globe and is a huge driver of biodiversity loss. Everything we do to clear land and grow food has consequences for biodiversity, but we often forget about the fact that agricultural landscapes can also be really important places for biodiversity. They house all sorts of different insect species, fungi, bacteria in the soil, and birds, but we often don't have as good data or information about that biodiversity. Given the fact that this is often private land, farmers don't have the capacity to monitor that biodiversity.
Hi, I'm Matt Mitchell. I'm a research associate in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at UBC. My research focuses on understanding how to better manage human-dominated landscapes like agricultural or urban landscapes for people and nature. I work on understanding how the structure of those landscapes, where the different forests, fields, buildings, roads are, and how that impacts both the species that are in that landscape, all the biodiversity that's there, but also how that impacts the benefits that people receive from ecosystems. Things like places to recreate, climate regulation, clean water, all of those sorts of benefits.
We're standing here at the UBC Farm on the southern part of the UBC Point Grey campus. We're on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam people. The farm is a pretty amazing multifunctional space 24 hectares in size with half of it dedicated to food production. The other half is second-growth forest and this space is a place of learning, of education, of research. We have a number of research projects that happen here, but [it's] also a place of of community and outreach. All of the things that happen with growing food, selling it at markets, and connecting with the people around us as well.
The really amazing thing about biodiversity monitoring right now is the amazing technologies that everyone can have on their phone that will allow them to understand better what species are around them. iNaturalist is one of these. This is a citizen science app that basically brings together people through their phones to be able to take photos of species or things they see out out in nature and work together to identify them. We use that at the farm when we see new species that we don't know. It helps us identify some of those. We also have done some BioBlitzes at the farm where we have students and the public come to the farm and use iNaturalist to document what species they see around the farm. The other app that we use a lot, both in the course I teach, but also in our biodiversity monitoring, is called Merlin. It's a bird identification app and it allows you to identify birds both from putting in characteristics of the birds, but it also recently added a feature where it will just listen for bird calls and, in real time can identify those bird species that are around you.
The other initiative that the biodiversity monitoring here at the farm is connected to is the LiteFarm software, an app that's being developed in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems led by Hannah Wittman. It's primarily an app that allows farmers to manage all of the management data at their farm. It's also being linked to biodiversity data, so it allows farmers to collect their own biodiversity data through iNaturalist and contribute it that way, but also [will allow them to] pull data from iNaturalist, from large global databases of biodiversity, giving some control to the producers and farmers about being able to use this biodiversity data that's often collected by scientists, but is not as accessible. [This allows] them to use that data in ways that they can better manage their fields.
This work understanding biodiversity and agricultural landscapes really is connected to a lot of work that's going on around the world. There's an increasing realization of the importance of these landscapes for biodiversity and the fact that a lot of the species that inhabit agricultural landscapes are threatened and understanding those species is really important in these landscapes. There's a global initiative called GEOBON, which is a global biodiversity observation network and there's also an initiative of creating a Canadian biodiversity observation network. Researchers here at the farm and Land and Food Systems are involved in that and making sure that the biodiversity network also includes agricultural landscapes and that we monitor the all of the different species, both positive and negative, in these landscapes to understand at a national scale what biodiversity we have and how it's changing.