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Can citizen science assist in determining koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) presence in a declining population?

Flower, E, Jones, D & Bernede, L 2016, Animals, vol. 6, no. 42.

A case study of citizen science projects designed to gather information about the national abundance of koalas revealed the valuable role of citizen science in influencing the conservation of the threatened species.  The quantity and quality of data collected by citizen scientists did not only match those of traditional scientific research models, but also covered a much greater spatial scale. 

  Citizen science has become a widely used approach to collect data in recent years.  The current study trialed a citizen science project that was developed based on specific guidelines, and compared its dataset with that of another existing citizen science project, ‘Koala Tracker’, and a government-led project in which data collection was performed by scientists employed by the Queensland Government Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.  Data contributed by the two citizen science projects not only covered a larger geographical area, but were also distributed evenly across the landscape, unlike those of the government-led project, which were aggregated and confined to certain regions.  Furthermore, the citizen science project contributed five times the data collected by government researchers.  These findings highlighted the ability of citizen science to collect a greater amount of data and acquire data from areas where traditional research methods would not be able to due to logistical constraints.  Secondly, the authors were able to identify three stages that are essential for the development of a successful citizen science project, which are volunteer recruitment, data collection protocols, and data validity. Similarly, the authors also identified a few shortcomings of their citizen project at each of these stages.  These shortcomings included lack of advertisement in the recruitment processes due to resource constraints, as well as the volunteers’ inability to follow the standardised data collection procedure and to report absence data.

  The great potential of citizen science in contributing to species conservation and management is reflected in this study.  If adequate training and education are provided for volunteers, data collected from citizen scientists can enhance traditional data collection techniques.  Monitoring of and exchanges with volunteers can also further enhance the quality of the information collected.  Further development of citizen science projects should place greater focus on volunteer recruitment and enforcement of data collection protocols.  Incorporation of citizen science projects into species management initiatives is highly advantageous in that such projects can educate the public, encourage their involvement in environmental conservation and initiate environmental change. 

 

Summarised by Cherie Chan

 

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