CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

‘Citizen scientists’ can aid biodiversity research


Getting a true picture of biodiversity changes in the future may depend on scientists gaining access to the records of ‘citizen scientists’ around the world, according to a paper published today in the scientific journal PLoS Biology.

The researchers behind the study are urging members of the public to supply critical information that may help prevent today’s common bird species from becoming threatened.

Co-author of the study, senior CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship researcher, Dr Richard Fuller, said scientists involved in investigating and predicting critical changes in biodiversity tend to study species on the verge of extinction.

“This focus ensures that we usually have adequate information on endangered species, but we really need help from the community to record many of the more common species that scientists cannot cover,” Dr Fuller said. “This could be the key to some species’ survival.”

The study focused on a review of 200 years of European and Asian museum and scientific records, as well as website reports by amateur ornithologists, relevant to 127 species of game birds (pheasants, partridges and quail).

“While museums hold comprehensive information there has been a recent shift away from looking at broad distributions and a focus on the rare and threatened,” Dr Fuller said.

“Data from websites where members of the public record bird sightings accounted for less than 1 per cent of the data the researchers collected, but the team hope that the internet will enable citizen scientists to make a big impact on future biodiversity research.”

Reports from travelling birdwatchers and other forms of citizen science have become a rapidly growing source of species distribution information, but organising all of this information has proved difficult.

This research was funded by the Leverhulme Trust in the UK and the Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities Program in Australia.

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