Ecological Understanding through Transdisciplinary Art and Participatory Biology
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In this study evidence is presented that suggests transdisciplinary art practices and participatory biology programs may successfully increase public understanding of ecological phenomenon. As today’s environmental issues are often complex and large-scale, finding effective strategies that encourage public awareness and stewardship are paramount for long-term conservation of species and ecosystems. Although artists and biologists tend to stay confined to their professional boundaries, and their discourses largely remain inaccessible to larger audiences, arguments here are presented for a combined approach, which may disseminate knowledge about ecology to non-specialists through novel art-science participatory research and exhibitions. Moreover, historically several scientists utilized varied creative art forms to disseminate scientific insights to a larger populace of non-specialists, such strategies as engaging writings and visually provocative artworks may still be effective to captivate contemporary audiences. In addition such historic hybrid science-art practitioners may have laid a conceptual terrain for some of today’s transdisciplinary art and citizen science practices. Furthermore, seminal ecological artworks from the 20th Century by Joseph Beuys, Patricia Johanson and Hans Haacke utilized novel strategies to reach audiences with a message of wetland conservation, blurring boundaries between art, ecology and activism. More recently artists like Cornelia Hesse-Honegger, Helen and Newton Harrison and others have integrated biological research into their art practices, which resulted in new scientific discoveries. Through my own transdisciplinary artwork about frogs, data suggests that the visual strategies I employ were effective to increase non-specialist understanding of the ecological phenomenon of amphibian declines and deformations. In addition through my participatory biology programs, Public Bio-Art Laboratories and Eco-Actions, evidence suggests that non-specialists achieved an increased awareness of the challenges amphibians and ecosystems currently face. Likewise, that through such participatory citizen science research new scientific insights about the proximate causes for deformities in anuran amphibians at select localities in middle England and Quebec were achieved. Here laboratory and field evidence, generated with the aid of public volunteers, found that non-lethal predatory injury to tadpoles from odonate nymphs and some fishes resulted in permanent limb deformities in post-metamorphic anurans. From an environmental-education and larger conservation standpoint, these findings are very relevant as they offer novel strategies for experientially engaging non-specialist audiences while generating important insights into biological communities and wetland ecosystems.
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