The Doñana Biological Station (EBD-CSIC) has participated in a didactic project with the aim of publicizing endangered species. The species chosen was Linderella baetica, an animal with the appearance of a shrimp that swims on its back and lives in a temporary lagoon in a highly humanized environment. "Taking decisive action to protect endangered species requires social support, which is built on people's appreciation of these organisms. The simple knowledge is the initial and unavoidable step to generate a certain appreciation for them. However, the value assigned to the different endangered species is not evenly distributed" says Miguel Clavero, researcher at the Doñana Biological Station.
A group of naturalists, researchers and teachers thought that the best way was to present this animal in schools and give girls and boys the possibility of creating a common name in Spanish for the species. Scientific names, made up of two Latin words, constitute more of a barrier than a door to the knowledge of biodiversity by the general public, which is more easily accessed through mother languages.
A school competition was organized during the 2016/2017 academic year to choose a common name for Linderiella baetica, whose design, results and implications have just been described in a publication in the international magazine Aquatic Conservation. More than 1,300 girls and boys from 58 classes from five schools in Cádiz and Seville participated in this contest. After receiving basic information about the species and its habitat, the primary school students proposed names, which were discussed and voted on within each class to keep a single proposal. The proposals arising from the different classes of each school were sent to the rest of the participating schools, which in turn selected their three favorite proposals. The 15 names were finally evaluated by a group of specialists, who chose the name 'gambilusa', devised by a 10-year-old girl from a school in Palomares del Río, in Seville, who imagined Linderiella baetica as an "Andalusian tiny prawn".
The contest to choose the name was an initiative led by the researcher Juan García de Lomas and sponsored by the Sociedad Gaditana de Historia Natural. Before the development of the contest, the gambilusa was unknown in schools, but its promoters hoped that the process of creating a name for the species would serve to establish knowledge about it. To prove it, a year after the contest, he asked again about the hooligan in schools. Strikingly, most of the students recalled what type of organism the gambilusa is and what its habitats and geographical distribution are, highlighting the generation of knowledge and awareness of the school contest.
The authors of the just-published work underscore the benefits of involving children in biodiversity conservation and propose that similar methodologies could be applied to other species elsewhere. There are many species that do not have a common name, many of them with very small distributions and in danger of extinction. Giving the people who live with them the possibility to give them names can be a first step towards involving them in their conservation.