Biodiversity Challenge spreads to the whole of Wageningen

May 13, 2024

From 22 May, the search area of the Biodiversity Challenge covers the entire Wageningen municipality. WUR is hosting the event in collaboration with the city. The search for as many different plants, animals and fungi at the WUR campus is no longer limited to the WUR campus till 22 June. ‘Your own garden or the park offers a wealth of biodiversity, too,” biosystematics lecturer Casper Quist says.

At Casper Quist’s house, students (and editors) are allowed to quite literally take a look upstairs. On the roofs of the garages of Quist and twelve of his neighbours, smack in the middle of Wageningen, dozens of herbs thrive, including yarrow, daisies, birdsfoot trefoil and Holcus lanatus. Various types of sedum keep the roofs green during dry summers. Birds and insects are enamoured with this green oasis. Now and again, Quist keeps track of how this little kingdom of biodiversity develops. This year, he can join his neighbours on the roof to participate in the Biodiversity Challenge.

This is the fourth time Wageningen University & Research is organising the Biodiversity Challenge. What was once a single weekend grew to a period of two months in which employees and students armed with magnifying glasses and smartphones set out to identify species. Their efforts range from quickly popping outside during a lunch break to a full-fledged evening excursion to find moths.

Last spring, no less than 1373 species were found during the challenge, but that is not all that matters, Quist says. ‘It’s about marvelling at nature from up close. That experience makes you want to care for nature, too. This is crucial, given that biodiversity is suffering so severely all over the world.’ For the first time, sixteen other universities in Europe joined the count.

From campus to city

For this edition, the search area has been expanded to encompass the entirety of the Wageningen municipality. ‘The Biodiversity Challenge connects people in the same way that it now forms a connection between the city and WUR’, says Marieke Dijkstra, policy officer of Green Spaces and Climate Adaptation at Wageningen municipality. If more people join, through excursions, for example, she hopes more people will gain awareness of the importance of biodiversity, even in their own neighbourhoods.

According to Dijkstra, the Wageningen municipality is already making significant efforts to increase biodiversity, such as an ecological mowing policy and adding more greenery to city squares and the town hall façade. Dijkstra and her colleagues encourage people, businesses and organisations to join this movement, too. ‘Even small measures around your own house are a great way to contribute. Adding more greenery to your garden or placing nest boxes, for example’, she explains. In many cases, the municipality can offer funding for this, as was the case for the garage roofs in Quist’s neighbourhood.

‘Nearly the entire street has joined’

This way, a modest initiative grows into an ever larger movement, first at the campus, then in Europe, and now in the city of Wageningen. Quist: ‘The same goes for your neighbourhood; it’s the small initiatives that matter. In my street, we started out with a handful of enthusiasts, but we soon managed to get nearly the entire street to join.’ Just like Dijkstra, he expects that this sense of amazement for nature will be infectious to even more people if the Biodiversity Challenge is to take place in Wageningen neighbourhoods.

Thanks to his own observations and those of students, Quist knows how the biodiversity on the roof is doing. After a first year with 90 plant species – the real pioneers – 70 remained last year. ‘The biodiversity will slowly reach an equilibrium.’ With the help of the students, he even studied the soil life. ‘We found hundreds of microscopic tardigrades in a single handful of soil. It was very surprising to find those little creatures on a green roof that had only been around for two and a half years.’

Tardigrades (source: <L CODE="C01">Echiniscidae in the Mascarenes: the wonders of Mauritius (CC-BY-4.0)</L>)
Tardigrades (source: Echiniscidae in the Mascarenes: the wonders of Mauritius (CC-BY-4.0))

- Unfortunately, your cookie settings do not allow videos to be displayed. - check your settings