Biodiversity Has a New Ally: Citizen Science

March 15, 2021
Article Written By: Williamfetzner

We have all felt at one time or another that the enormity of a problem is just so large that it is impossible to overcome. The decline in biodiversity, climate change, environmental pollution, etc. Solutions to these large issues all begin with collecting valuable data to assess and track them.

For one person or scientist, it is impossible to collect enough data on their own without significant funding and resources; however, citizen science is making this possible on a shoestring budget.

What is Citizen Science?

As defined by National Geographic, Citizen Science is the “practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research to increase scientific knowledge.”

Although this term was only recently coined in the mid-1990s, this practice has been going on since the Ancient Chinese had citizens track the locust outbreaks.

Citizen Science Biodiversity Projects

In our ever-changing world, it has become increasingly important to study biodiversity. Biodiversity is the number of different species in a given area. For example, an area like the rainforest is going to have higher biodiversity than the desert.   

To perform biodiversity studies, researchers often have to form teams and try to collect data through aerial or ground surveys, which can be inefficient since they would have to go out to collect data on numerous occasions.

Benefits

Citizen science has been a game-changer for biodiversity studies because of the vast amounts of data they are able to provide researchers with. The Global Biodiversity Information Facility(GBIF) which gathers biodiversity data from a variety of citizen science sources (eBird, iNaturalist, etc.) currently contains over 1.66 billion records!

Scientists can use data gathered from databases such as eBird to grasp insights on movements and trends from 807 bird species from around the globe. The scale of the data shows the magnitude of impact citizen science has on science research.

The largest breakthrough in this field has been smartphones. This allows citizen scientists to easily record data while in the field. They can just easily snap the picture or record information of the plant or animal and scientists can use it. Pictures allow scientists to easily validate the identity of the organism.

Though not perfect...

As with anything, there are downsides. Counts may not be accurate as people may try to record what they saw after being out in the field. The counts are often done unsystematically, with overlapping transects and unequal sampling of high transit popular areas versus low transit areas.

In addition, a less common species may be identified more often purely because they're more attractive to record. For example, the otter in the UK is the highest recorded species even though rabbits have a much higher population.

Since citizen scientists are often amateurs, species identification may not be perfect as they are not as highly-trained. However, Bird Bot is looking to solve this issue with their innovative camera. Their goal is to build the world's largest Wildlife AI camera network. Their network of cameras in conjunction with their AI software correctly tracks and identifies species in the camera’s frame.

BirdBot Prototype Camera

Citizen Science for the Win

The power of biodiversity studies has increased tremendously with Citizen Science projects. With new machine learning algorithms, the ability to store billions of data points, and technology such as BirdBot, the accuracy of the data collected by citizen scientists will only increase.

You have a couple courses of action:

Researchers:

● You can use our camera and data to generate new theses and discoveries!

Educators:

● Please leverage our technology to enhance your lesson plans and student engagement!

Citizens:

● We need you! Help contribute to citizen science today! It takes all of us to make a difference!