Citizen Scientists Are Making A Difference For Wildlife, Study Finds; UF / IFAS offers several local projects for citizen scientists
Do you like the beach ? Join Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch Program. How about cruising the lakes of central Florida? Lake water quality monitoring could be for you. Are you a gardener? There is even a citizen science project to backyard tomato gardening.
From the University of Florida / Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF / IFAS)
When public interest is high and funding is limited, researchers can count on citizens to help them measure populations of wildlife, according to the research. Scientists at UF / IFAS and Florida Sea Grant used the horseshoe crab citizen science project, Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch, as a model to show that the data the public collects is as reliable and accurate as those of researchers.
The study found no significant difference between data collected by volunteers and data collected by trained scientists. The program also highlights the value of skilled volunteers who are willing and able to learn complex scientific procedures.
With 1,350 miles of Florida coastline to cover, it is virtually impossible to study Florida horseshoe crab populations without the help of volunteers. Thanks to Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch, 833 volunteers educated nearly 5,000 people about horseshoe crabs in beach surveys alone. Many volunteers also write articles, give talks at local clubs, hold jobs or volunteer positions at nature centers, and generally chat with people about horseshoe crabs.
“This 5,000-person impact is a very conservative estimate,” said Savanna Barry, study co-author and regional specialist officer with UF / IFAS Extension Florida Sea Grant. “This is a lot more education than what only the three founding scientists could have accomplished.”
“From a researcher’s perspective, even with well-funded projects, much of the scientific research is still groundwork,” said Berlynna Heres, a researcher at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and senior author of the study. “We need data that is collected consistently in many places and often at the same time. Participating in citizen science collects data that would never be captured otherwise. “
Historical records show that members of the public have recorded observations of the natural world to support scientists for centuries. In recent years, the use of citizen science has increased, but some still fear this practice.
“Much of the fear in citizen science research is that the quality is not up to the standards of professionally trained researchers,” Heres said. “It’s a fair concern, but completely dependent on the project and the objective. Our study shows that with well-designed training and supervision, any member of the public is able to collect data at the level of a professional researcher. Alternatively, as with the data from public reports that we collect, the researchers designing the study understand the limitations of the data and use it according to their capabilities. “
The research compared data reported by anyone in the public who noticed a horseshoe crab on the beach to data collected by trained citizen scientists volunteers as part of the Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch program. Although both programs involve members of the public, the Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch program includes extensive training in animal biology and data collection and reporting.
“This article shows that the data collected by volunteers is of high quality and paves the way for more findings based on their data to be published in the scientific literature,” Barry said.
Publicly reported data helps guide the Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch program. For example, areas of highly reported spawning activity have identified sites for citizen science data collection.
In the case of Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch and public spawning reports, the public can directly participate in research that influences management decisions. The data collected by volunteers is actively used by the FWC to conserve populations of horseshoe crab, a species important to human health and the ecosystems in which they live.
“When volunteers see their data used in real-world decision-making and in peer-reviewed articles, it makes them feel like they are participating in something with a larger purpose and may make them more likely to continue. to volunteer, ”Barry said.
The benefits of citizen science programs transcend the program and the volunteers. Volunteers do more than collect and compile data; they help organizations understand how the public perceives their local ecosystems and wildlife.
“Not all volunteers come with a history of fishing or wildlife research and have unique perspectives and ideas that help improve the program in return,” Heres said. “We get so much from working with the public, and we hope those who volunteer through the program feel the same and know they are making a difference. “
Those interested in getting involved can visit FWC’s Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch information page, select the nearest county drop-down menu, and contact the program coordinator for more information.
“Practical, outdoor and meaningful activities can be hard to come by,” Barry said. “Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch is fun and easy to learn, doesn’t take a lot of time, and is easy to plan ahead. A lot of people tell me they wanted to be a marine biologist, but life got in the way of their plans, or maybe they’re an aspiring marine or wildlife biologist. Either way, this program is a great way to gain experience as a marine scientist, even if it’s just a few days a year.
Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch is a collaboration between the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute at FWC, UF / IFAS, UF Department of Biology, and the Florida Sea Grant.
Apopka UF / IFAS location
UF / IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center
2725 S. Binion Road
Apopka, Florida 32703
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The mission of University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF / IFAS) is to develop knowledge relating to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make this knowledge available to support and improve the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty from the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF / IFAS brings scientific solutions to the agricultural and natural resource industries of the State, and to all Florida residents. ifas.ufl.edu | @UF_IFAS