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The contribution of community wisdom to conservation ecology

Predavec, M, Lunney, D, Hope, B, Stalenberg, E, Shannon, I, Crowther, MS & Miller, I 2016, Conservation Biology, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 496-505.

Citizen science can contribute to scientific research through direct involvement in data collection or collective knowledge from the community (often termed “wisdom of crowds”).  Community wisdom can produce results that match those of traditional research while at the same time offering a larger spatial and temporal scope into the population trends of koalas.

  Community wisdom is a relatively new approach to citizen science in which citizens are asked to answer specific conservation questions in a way that is analogous to expert elicitation.  A comparison study of the population trends of koalas in New South Wales was conducted to investigate the differences in the results produced by a “wisdom of crowds” survey and those of traditional research.  Surveys were posted to residents across New South Wales, and residents were asked to respond to the question of whether they think koala populations in their local area were declining, increasing or staying the same.  The community survey produced patterns that matched the statewide koala population trends reported by government surveys and expert elicitation workshops, both spatially and temporally.  Similarly, at the local government area scale, results were consistent with those produced by local koala studies. 

  The inclusion of citizens in scientific research and conservation planning is a great way to educate the public of the issues koalas are facing and to gain public support for conservation initiatives.  This study highlighted the benefits of using the knowledge of citizens to address conservation questions.  “Wisdom of crowds” studies can not only allow greater geographic areas to be sampled within a short time span and with limited resources, but they can also enable a large amount of information to be collected in a single survey, which is normally impossible to achieve with traditional research methods.  Furthermore, these studies allow collection of data from privately owned lands, which are difficult to monitor through traditional surveys due to land accessibility.

  The authors pointed out the importance of having a large and diverse group of participants, as the demographics of participants can influence their responses significantly.  To conclude, the authors recommend that future population studies should consider incorporating “wisdom of crowds” studies with traditional methods to create a larger and more comprehensive dataset.

 

Summarised by Cherie Chan

 

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