The advent of the Internet and social technologies have greatly enhanced participation by the public in scientific research. For example, Zooniverse currently offers 51 projects asking for public assistance. However, so-called “citizen science” remains an under-utilized resource. Citizen scientists can help to map, record and ultimately preserve biodiversity. We at Biodiversity Professionals strongly encourage our members to consider ways to engage the public in scientific research. Here are five reasons citizen science can be invaluable in the fight to save biodiversity.
1. Citizen scientists help increase project reach
With the potential to amass millions of citizen scientists from around the globe, the amount of data that can be collected is unimaginable. Having so many individuals in the field at varying times may lead to exotic or innovative discoveries. “Enlisting input from a network of volunteer citizen scientists expands the reach of a project, sometimes beyond what scientists can imagine,” says National Geographic writer Karen de Seve.
2. Citizen science helps to stretch limited funding
Citizen scientists allow far greater amounts of data to be collected at little to no cost. Such economies of scale free up funds. Researchers have more time to be spent on data analysis. Andrea Korte reported in an AAAS article, “The work of the 2.3 million volunteer citizen scientists who contribute to biodiversity research have an economic value of up to $2.5 billion per year.”
3. Citizen scientists help raise local and governmental awareness
There’s no doubt that when enough people start to ask questions, others start to listen. Engaging citizens spreads the word of shrinking biodiversity. According to the European Environment Agency, “Involving people in monitoring gives them a basic understanding of the underlying threat to biodiversity…” Furthermore, such involvement “…can facilitate a willingness to contribute to solving the problem.” World-changing movements always start with people’s passionate interest in a problem. Impassioned citizen scientists have the power to alter the world around them. They can bring problems to the attention of people with the ability to enact change.
4. Citizen scientists may experience transformative learning
TD Jakes said it best, “There is nothing as powerful as a changed mind.” When an individual momentarily exits their busy lifestyle, taking time to study the world around them, what they learn can change their life. Many people are unaware of how their choices affect the world around them. The clothing they wear, the food they eat, their mode of transportation can all impact their local environment. A citizen scientist can help biodiversity by changing the way they live and inspiring those around them.
5. Citizen science can help to prevent extinctions
The loss of many species populations goes largely unnoticed until it is far too late. UCLA recently called for greater public participation in citizen science. According to their report, monitoring by citizen scientists can lead to “early detection of species decline.” Identifying a problem is the first step towards rectification. Training citizen scientists to participate in conservation research increases the efficiency of our work to protect biodiversity.
We see the potential for citizen science in such initiatives as Bioblitzes. Conservationists must now take advantage. Here is their opportunity to conduct more research—cheaper and faster—while at the same time connecting people across the world in a common purpose. We, as members of the human race, all share the responsibility to be stewards of our planet’s biodiversity for economic, aesthetic and moral reasons. Climate is changing. Human population is increasing. Cities expand while species vanish into extinction. It is now more important now than ever to take action.