Why Rely On Citizen Science
By 2019, the number of smartphones users is projected to reach 2.6 billion. That’s an enormous number, but why is that important? A smartphone is essentially a mini computer that gives us access to the internet, global positioning systems (GPS), geographical information system (GIS), microphones, accelerometers, and high-resolution cameras for pictures and videos (1), making it the perfect data recorder. These handheld devices equipped with sensors are spread across the world and make it easy to participate in citizen science projects. So how exactly does citizen science work, and how does it help with conservation? It relies on Big Data.
In order to protect a species, understanding their behaviors and patterns is necessary for researchers. When the habitat of a species is small enough, scientists can make predictions even outside of their data collection. However, that is usually not the case. The range of a species’ habitat changes over time, and data points need to follow the spatial and temporal scales (2). In this case, the accumulation of data from regular citizens and researchers is much more efficient than solely relying on the experts.
Projects To Check Out
eBird, for example, is an online community where users can record their observations in a shared database. This open source data allows bird enthusiasts, scientists, and conservationists to follow “avian biological patterns and the environmental and anthropogenic” influences on them (3). Started in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird records more than 100 million bird sightings every year from around the globe. This unprecedented amount of data can be used for student research, habitat and population management, and informing law and policy (4). To ensure quality at the same time, eBird uses suggestions of species based on location and the experts to help with irregular sightings.
Another project is the Evolution MegaLab. With data going back thirty years, Evolution MegaLab tracks the variations on the shells of banded snails to learn about their evolution. Their historical data shows that patterns have adapted for camouflage, predators, and climate change. You can even look through the history of the snail-shell polymorphism in your area with Evolution MegaLab (5).
Similar to citizen science, crowdsourcing is a method where a normally long and tedious task is worked through by the community. Usually, crowdsourcing is done via the internet where a large number of people with different specialties can contribute. Zooniverse (6) and the Bruna Lab (7) are exactly that. Projects aren’t only conservation based; they range from the arts, climate, medicine, space, and many more. Users help identify, transcribe, or participate in surveys to provide data for projects. If you are interested, you can even start your own project!
Not only is citizen science important for open source research, it can also be a fun experience to explore your outside your doorstep.
(1) Griffiths, David J., et al. “Smartphones in Ecology and Evolution: a Guide for the App‐Rehensive.” Freshwater Biology, Wiley/Blackwell (10.1111), 2 Dec. 2013, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ece3.888.
(2) Kelling, Steve, et al. “Taking a ‘Big Data’ Approach to Data Quality in a Citizen Science Project.” SpringerLink, Springer, Dordrecht, 27 Oct. 2015, link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13280-015-0710-4.
(3) “EBird: A Citizen-Based Bird Observation Network in the Biological Sciences.” Egyptian Journal of Medical Human Genetics, Elsevier, 28 May 2009, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000632070900216X.
(4) “Conservation Impacts.” About EBird – EBird, ebird.org/science/conservationimpacts.
(5) Evolution MegaLab, http://www.evolutionmegalab.org/en_GB/.
(6) “Zooniverse.” Zooniverse.org, http://www.zooniverse.org/.
(7) “Smartphone Apps for Field Biologists.” The Bruna Lab | UF, 20 May 2016, brunalab.org/apps/.
Wal, René van der, and Koen Arts. “Digital Conservation: An Introduction.” SpringerLink, Springer, Dordrecht, 27 Oct. 2015, link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13280-015-0701-5.
Arts, Koen, et al. “Digital Technology and the Conservation of Nature.” SpringerLink, Springer, Dordrecht, 27 Oct. 2015, link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13280-015-0705-1#Fn4.