On Monday afternoon I had the chance to learn more about ARKive.org from Liana Vitali, who led a workshop at this year’s Ecological Society of America meeting in Austin, TX. My first thought upon entering the room (a few minutes late) was: “Where is everybody?”. About a dozen participants from a registered crowd of over 3,600 ecologists came to the workshop to learn more about how this website can contribute to our research, outreach and teaching and how it can be used to satisfy just plain old biological curiosity. I thought the low attendance was strange since this year’s theme is Earth Stewardship which seems pretty in line with ARKive’s mission. And – is it just me – or does there seem to be a growing sense within our field that we ecologists should be doing more to help increase public awareness of what we do? If so, shouldn’t we be taking advantage of as many free resources and training opportunities as possible? As I’ve mentioned before on the biocreativity blog, I think wildlife photography and nature documentaries are two of the most compelling biocreative media for illustrating natural phenomena and introducing broad audiences to the biodiversity of our planet.
ARKive.org does just that. Produced by Wildscreen, a non-profit organization, its mission is to increase public understanding of wildlife, biodiversity and its conservation through wildlife imagery. Wildscreen is behind, among other things, the “world’s largest” wildlife and environmental film festival, the Wildscreen Festival. One major figure behind ARKive.org is the late Christopher Parsons, former head of the BBC’s Natural History Unit and the project has a few notable spokespersons including Dr. Sylvia Earle, Dr. E.O Wilson and Sir David Attenborough (indeed).
ARKive features species profiles with photos and videos of all species listed on the IUCN red list of threatened species. John Hanke of Google Earth fame has recently joined the ARKive team, and as a result you can view ARKive images directly within Google Earth (layer included in GE download) or within the ARKive.org species profiles. All of the images within ARKive have been donated by organizations, professional photographers, researchers and natural history broadcasters. The great part is, you don’t have to ask permission for private, scientific, educational and non-commercial uses. For example, if you would like to use a photo or video for an academic presentation or for use in your K-12 classroom, feel free! Have another use in mind? Just ask permission. Contact information for the photographer or filmmaker is attached in the bottom right corner of every image by clicking the “Credit” link.
There are several ways contribute your images or expertise to ARKive.org. First, ARKive has a “most wanted list” of species for which they need good images and videos. Most species profiles also have a shared Flikr gallery on which users can contribute additional photographs directly. An added benefit of contributing images is that the entire online archive of ARKive is backed up on both US and UK servers, so if you contribute and then somehow loose your data, you’ll have at least two backups of contributed images. If you have expert knowledge to contribute to particular species featured in ARKive, you can offer your help to review and write profiles by emailing email@example.com. If you’re at the ESA meeting you can view the most wanted list and get in touch with Liana at the booth in the exhibit hall. Finally, the ARKive and Universities program allows graduate students to create and review species profiles, providing them with an opportunity to contribute their knowledge and get published online.
Personally, I can’t tell you how helpful it would have been to have had access to ARKive’s videos (linked below) of ‘Akiapola’au – a rare Hawaiian forest bird – when my colleagues and I were presenting results of our research on the foraging ecology of this bird nearly a decade ago. ‘Akiapola’au is so rare we saw it only once in two summers of field research. Explaining the feeding behavior of this bird verbally is so much different than being able to transport your audience to the field via a short film. My only complaint so far is that you can only embed fairly small thumbnails of photos and links to videos like the ones of the ‘Akis below. One way around this is that you can download the videos and re-post them for certain limited purposes (or with permission), but the ability to embed videos (on blogs, for example) would be nice. Nevertheless, this is a cool tool. How will you use ARKive.org?