- Associated Press - Sunday, September 27, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - As Ohio State University students travel through campus on the way to classes, football games or other events, they most likely are unaware that they are following in the footsteps- or paw prints, slither trails and flight paths -of any number of creatures.

A team of OSU professors is hoping to change that with BioPresence, a project that maps animal sightings across campus and incorporates them into a variety of programs.

The year-old project joins faculty members from a range of disciplines, including environmental studies, art, biology, literature, engineering and ecology. But it was a group of art professors who spearheaded the effort.

“We had a very long conversation about our relationship to animals,” said Ken Rinaldo, an artist and a professor who oversees the art and technology program at Ohio State. “We thought about how we can use technology to make clear the symbiotic relationship between us and animals.”

Amy Youngs, who is an associate professor of art and Rinaldo’s wife, took the reins from there and applied for a grant to start the undertaking.

“The project happened to get people noticing animals,” she said. “As we think about the future of university space, how do we think about the space of animals on campus?”

Among other things, the project maps animals photographed by OSU police security cameras across campus and mounted motion-activated cameras that capture images at the Olentangy River Wetland Research Park just north of W. Dodridge Street.

Researchers installed a song meter, too, which helps capture the sounds of birds and insects every dawn in the park. People can download the recordings through the BioPresence website.

“Part of the project is to see how to make this data available to people to see,” Youngs said.

Animal visitors include deer, ducks, geese, bats, raptors, squirrels, opossums and even coyotes, which have been seen darting through West Campus. And don’t forget all of the insects and arachnids- spiders and moths and mantises and honeybees -that buzz, crawl, scurry and flit across Ohio State.

“The goal is to increase awareness in the general population of the students,” said Stanley Gehrt, an associate professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources and a world-renowned coyote expert. “It’s important for the general public to understand we’re not the only ones using this space.”

There have been birding events, a bat walk and a student art display, as well as social-media projects on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook.

The general public is encouraged to share observations of wildlife on campus by using the hash tag #animalOSU on social media. The group is working on an interactive map that will feature sightings.

“It’s an opportunity for people to help out,” said Matt Lewis, a senior systems developer at the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design. “Just take a picture and upload it. That’s pretty simple.”

The effort links art and science. Youngs said art can make science accessible to people.

She said the project has changed the way she looks for wildlife. For example, she has begun to notice something a bit macabre on campus.

“A lot of us are like ‘Wow, look at all of these dead birds,’ ” she said.

Some die from natural causes. Others die from colliding with windows on campus buildings.

Now, the maps include dead-bird sightings. Some of the birds, Youngs said, have inspired her to create an art project that will incorporate specimens preserved at the OSU Museum of Biological Diversity.

Rinaldo said art students are participating, too. For example, students in his 3-D modeling class were given an assignment to create a concept that would allow them to observe a species’ behavior.

Samuel Kennard, a senior from Mansfield who is majoring in art and technology, focused on ants. “I’m really interested in how social behavior of ants parallels human behavior,” he said.

The art student is creating a giant model of an ant that will allow real ants to enter a dome at the top, where he will be able to monitor them.

“Science is answering questions, and I think art brings more questions to science,” said Kennard, 23.

In December, the students will get to present their work and their results in a BioPresence exhibit.

“We want to display the beauty of animals and acknowledge that these animals were here before us,” Rinaldo said.


Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, https://www.dispatch.com

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