‘Citizen science’ vital for recording biodiversity

Large, long-running records are essential to show how species numbers and distribution changes over time. Limited resources and funding mean that professional biologists, conservationists and museums are unlikely to be able to fulfill this task, and the gap could be filled by “citizen scientists”.

These are the conclusions reached by a recent international study led by Elizabeth Boake. The study collated a large historical database of ~170,000 records of the avian order Galliformes, dating back over two centuries in Europe in Asia. Museum records were found to be essential but time-consuming to collect, and literature from the past 30 years was found to be extremely biased towards threatened species and areas of high biodiversity.

This leaves a clear gap in knowledge. Dr Boakes remarked in an interview with the BBC, “While this is very sensible, it means that we are really lacking data from huge areas of low biodiversity.” This gap, she says, can be filled by “citizen scientists”, who should record sightings of the common species they see, and not just those which are “exciting”.

Given that internet access is now so widespread, the authors suggest that a formalised website could help “facilitate collection and distribution of all kinds of taxonomic data from a wide geographic area at minimal cost”. However, the authors assert that submissions lacking geographical references, or that were not fed into a centralised database, would have “little future scientific value”.

Study article: “Distorted Views of Biodiversity: Spatial and Temporal Bias in Species Occurrence Data

Source article: “Citizen science ‘can safeguard birds’ future'” by Mark Kinver

If you’d be interested in sharing information about species you’ve observed, and would like help from experts in identifying what you’ve seen, upload pictures to the iSpot website, maintained by the Open University.