Citizen science and global biodiversity
Citizen science and global biodiversity

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Citizen science and global biodiversity

3 Who is a citizen scientist?

Participants in citizen science – i.e. citizen scientists – are involved in a wide range of research projects in subjects such as astronomy, medicine, climate change, invasive species, conservation, ecological restoration, monitoring water quality and studying population ecology, to name just a few. (There are more examples at the end of this week and in Week 8.) There has been a rapid growth in the range, diversity, scale and scope of these types of initiative, particularly over the past ten years. There is also an increased appreciation of the role they play in providing a range of assets, including volunteer labour and skills (see Figures 4 to 8). The impact they have had on research and engagement around science has been significant.

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Figure 4–8
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Public participation in science can engage non-professionals in scientific investigation through initiatives that mainly involve a collaboration between amateurs (people with no or some expertise) and scientists. A citizen scientist is anyone who volunteers their time contributing to wildlife observation, collection and analysis of data, and interpretation and reporting of results. An important factor is that citizen science provides opportunities for non-professional people to work with scientists and participate in authentic scientific research, as illustrated in this video which talks about the ‘big butterfly count’.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video of citizen science activity
Skip transcript: Video of citizen science activity

Transcript: Video of citizen science activity

Butterflies are incredibly sensitive indicators of the health of our environment. Across the UK, most species of butterflies and moths are in some kind of decline. But the good news is you can do something about it. You can help by taking part in Butterfly Conservation's Big Butterfly Count. And by doing so, you'll be able to help them work out how best to help the butterflies.
On top of that, it's a great way of having fun and getting outside. It's not just good for the butterflies, this. Being outside is good for you too. Now how do you take part? All you need is either the Big Butterfly Count app on your phone or tablet. Or, you can print off your recording sheet from the Big Butterfly Count website.
Now what you need to take part in the survey is simply one of those and 15 minutes of your time. That's all it takes, 15 minutes-- preferably, in sunny weather. So head outdoors and set up in a good spot for butterflies. Now this could be your garden, a park, a wood, or a favourite spot that you've got in mind.
So there's the Butterfly Count app. Press on it. It opens up. Take part in the count? It asks me. Yes, please. It's now time to start. So 15 minutes from now, go. And of course, I have to record the maximum number of butterflies of any species I see at any one time.
So that is a Meadow Brown. Meadow Brown is there. Meadow Brown.
Ah-ha, Small Tortoiseshell, finally. There's also sort of this big, dark shape just over there. And I just got myself a Red Admiral. If you're not using an app or on a tablet or a phone, the old-fashioned way is just as good. And it's a simple chart like this. So I can fill in the butterflies I've seen in my 15 minute station. One Small Tortoiseshell. And one Red Admiral.
OK, that's my 15 minutes up. So I can just add a few more little details to the last page. And then press Submit. Now, if you're not using the app, then you now need to go and enter it on the website.
OK, right. Now I'm going to put in the data from my form into the Big Butterfly Count website. Submit Sightings. Meadow Brown. So Submit Sightings. I have some good news. We're all done.
You can also join in with the Big Butterfly Count conversation on social media, to let everyone know what you've seen and what you've learned about the different species you've been counting. Also, remember-- this is quite important-- that the counts where you see nothing still count. So let us know.
Some more good news, you can keep counting. You can complete as many counts in as many different locations as you like. And you don't have to go it alone. Bring your friends and family along for the fun. And they, too, can help towards securing a brighter future for our butterflies. All you need to do to start is visit Butterfly Conservation's Big Butterfly Count website.
End transcript: Video of citizen science activity
Video of citizen science activity
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However, we should not overlook that citizen science also facilitates and inspires public action to tackle core global environmental problems, e.g. climate change. Its participatory nature means that, while facilitating understanding, it also engages and empowers those affected by the issues and their outcomes. Through enabling public action, including researching and collecting data, citizen science can also benefit those who become involved by facilitating the development and transfer of skills, providing a platform for education and learning, and cultivating a sense of personal fulfilment and enjoyment in participants. These motivations are discussed further in the next section, where you will consider why people become citizen scientists.

Activity 1 Understanding citizen science

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Have you ever seen a plant or an animal and wondered what it was called, or seen something important you’d like to share? iSpot [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] was developed to help people get involved and provide answers to these types of query.

Take a look at the website and view the post about Katie’s moth, mentioned in Section 1. You can see this in the images below or find it on the iSpot website

Familiarise yourself with the features on the first part of the page:

  1. Look at the image in the observation posted, and the Description and Notes added.
Picture of a moth on a search engine
  1. Look at the observations and comments that were left, leading to an identification:
iSpot search engine
  1. Now consider your own interests. How can an online resource like iSpot assist you to participate in studying, understanding and learning about biodiversity?

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
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The word cloud below displays some of the most popular words from comments made by iSpot users on the website. Thinking about your response in Activity 1, how many of these reflect your own interest in citizen science?

Diferent word design
Figure 9 Word cloud

You will have other opportunities to explore iSpot and learn more about the website and how it works as the course progresses. So you can leave it for now and move on to the next section.


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