Reef Check Australia (RCA) has collected data on benthic composition and cover at > 70 sites along > 1000 km of Australia’s Queensland coast from 2002 to 2015. This paper quantifies the accuracy, precision and power of RCA benthic composition data, to guide its application and interpretation. A simulation study established that the inherent accuracy of the Reef Check point sampling protocol is high (<± 7% error absolute), in the range of estimates of benthic cover from 1% to 50%. A field study at three reef sites indicated that, despite minor observer- and deployment-related biases, the protocol does reliably document moderate ecological changes in coral communities. The error analyses were then used to guide the interpretation of inter-annual variability and long term trends at three study sites in RCA's major 2002–2015 data series for the Queensland coast. Source: Done, T., Roelfsema, C., Harvey, A., Schuller, L., Hill, J., Schläppy, M-L., Lea, A., Bauer-Civiello, A., Loder, J., 2017. Reliability and utility of citizen science reef monitoring data collected by Reef Check Australia, 2002–2015. Marine Pollution Bulletin: Volume 117, Issues 1–2, 15 April 2017, Pages 148–155. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.01.054

Abstract: Small-scale pollution events involve the release of potentially harmful substances into the marine environment. These events can affect all levels of the ecosystem, with damage to both fauna and flora. Numerous reporting structures are currently available to document spills, however there is a lack of information on small-scale events due to their magnitude and patchy distribution. To this end, volunteers may provide a useful tool in filling this data gap, especially for coastal environments with a high usage by members of the public. The potential for citizen scientists to record small-scale pollution events is explored using the UK as an example, with a focus on highlighting methods and issues associated with using this data source. An integrated monitoring system is proposed which combines citizen science and traditional reporting approaches.

Source: Hyder, K., Wright, S., Kirby, M., Brant, J, 2017. The role of citizen science in monitoring small-scale pollution events. Marine Pollution Bulletin in press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.04.038

Agricultural workers have long been collecting data on the natural world, but opening up opportunities for farmers to share information raises questions about who would participate and why. This study is unusual for involving farmers in developing countries as potential stakeholders in citizen science, for whom participation may be meaningfully connected to livelihood. While most farmers in all three countries (Honduras, India, & Ethiopia) owned and regularly used cell phones for information purposes, their usage patterns, preferences, and needs were quite different from the users targeted by most citizen science projects, so the results clearly reinforce the importance of culturally-sensitive project and technology designs. — AW, Guest Editor

Map of locations of study participants in Honduras, Ethiopia, and India.

Farmers were recruited from agricultural communities in three developing countries.

As the sustainability of agricultural citizen science projects depends on volunteer farmers who contribute their time, energy and skills, understanding their motivation is important to attract and retain participants in citizen science projects. The objectives of this study were to assess 1) farmers’ motivations to participate as citizen scientists and 2) farmers’ mobile telephone usage. Building on motivational factors identified from previous citizen science studies, a questionnaire based methodology was developed which allowed the analysis of motivational factors and their relation to farmers’ characteristics. The questionnaire was applied in three communities of farmers, in countries from different continents, participating as citizen scientists. We used statistical tests to compare motivational factors within and among the three countries. In addition, the relations between motivational factors and farmers characteristics were assessed. Lastly, Principal Component Analysis (PCA) was used to group farmers based on their motivations. Although there was an overlap between the types of motivations, for Indian farmers a collectivistic type of motivation (i.e., contribute to scientific research) was more important than egoistic and altruistic motivations. For Ethiopian and Honduran farmers an egoistic intrinsic type of motivation (i.e., interest in sharing information) was most important. While fun has appeared to be an important egoistic intrinsic factor to participate in other citizen science projects, the smallholder farmers involved in this research valued ‘passing free time’ the lowest. Two major groups of farmers were distinguished: one motivated by sharing information (egoistic intrinsic), helping (altruism) and contribute to scientific research (collectivistic) and one motivated by egoistic extrinsic factors (expectation, expert interaction and community interaction). Country and education level were the two most important farmers’ characteristics that explain around 20% of the variation in farmers motivations. For educated farmers, contributing to scientific research was a more important motivation to participate as citizen scientists compared to less educated farmers. We conclude that motivations to participate in citizen science are different for smallholders in agriculture compared to other sectors. Citizen science does have high potential, but easy to use mechanisms are needed. Moreover, gamification may increase the egoistic intrinsic motivation of farmers.

Source: Beza, E., Steinke,  J., van Etten, J., Reidsma, P., Fadda, C., Mittra, S., et al., 2017. What are the prospects for citizen science in agriculture? Evidence from three continents on motivation and mobile telephone use of resource-poor farmers. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0175700. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0175700

These computing researchers took a critical look at the current practice of citizen science with the goal of informing the development of tools and technologies. They asked two seemingly simple questions: what drives people to participate, and what are productive ways for people to participate? In the analysis, I particularly like the nuanced understanding of the space that they developed, describing the complex multi-dimensional tradeoffs that must be made and the types of bottom-line impacts those decisions have on both participants and science. Ultimately, the authors recommend applying different design principles for three “ideal types” of project designs, which are readily recognizable through parallels to numerous other citizen science typology papers. — AW, Guest Editor

Excerpt: “An early focus on generalizable research – notably, on infrastructure for collaboration and data collection, things that computing research does well – risks losing sight of some of the particulars of citizen science as it is actually practiced. Such efforts often overlook: (1) the behavioral motivations of citizens to contribute to particular environmental causes, (2) the capacity of citizens to participate in activities necessary to a meaningful scientific campaign, and (3) the alignment of technologies with the ultimate goals of the collective scientific effort.”

Abstract: In this paper we consider various genres of citizen science from the perspective of citizen participants. As a mode of scientific inquiry, citizen science has the potential to “scale up” scientific data collection efforts and increase lay engagement with science. However, current technological directions risk losing sight of the ways in which citizen science is actually practiced. As citizen science is increasingly used to describe a wide range of activities, we begin by presenting a framework of citizen science genres. We then present findings from four interlocking qualitative studies and technological interventions of community air quality monitoring efforts, examining the motivations and capacities of citizen participants and characterizing their alignment with different types of citizen science. Based on these studies, we suggest that data acquisition involves complex multi-dimensional tradeoffs, and the commonly held view that citizen science systems are a win-win for citizens and science may be overstated.

Figure 1. Different types of data-centric community and science practice. Studies 2-4 show the focus of our fieldwork.

Source: Aoki, P., Woodruff, A., Yellapragada, B., Willett, W., 2017. Environmental Protection and Agency: Motivations, Capacity, and Goals in Participatory Sensing. Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 3138-3150. DOI: 10.1145/3025453.3025667.

Excerpt: (C)itizen science provides a way to question how science is done and who is doing it. Within citizen science, it is important to notice that scientific degrees don’t always translate to leadership. The keynotes speakers were Dr. Marc Edwards (Virgina Tech) &  LeeAnne Walters (Coalition for Clean Water). Marc started in an area of research about home water systems and was approached about lead contamination in a case before Flint that got him engaged with community issues. LeeAnne gave a back story of Flint – the change in the water source to the Flint river, leading to a deteriorating quality of water – people getting sick, and having health impacts across the city. This was ignored by the city authorities and the community members were described as liars and stupid. That was the point where she decided to learn about the science – got through a lot of learning about water distribution system. In April 2015 in interaction with professionals, she pointed that “I’m not a scientist, but I am trying to be” and with EPA being shocked about the results from the water. They started to work with Marc in 2015 and when they put the report in that year the EPA apologized to the city authorities about releasing information to the public. In late 2015 they did a city-wide study in 2015 with NSF funding to carry out a 300 houses studies across the city.

Source: Haklay, M., 2017. Citizen Science 2017 – Day 1 (Morning): Flint Water Study, EPA use of citizen science and engagement, 19 May. Available at https://povesham.wordpress.com/2017/05/19/citizen-science-2017-day-1-morning-flint-water-study-epa-use-of-citizen-science-and-engagement/[Last accessed 5 June 2017].

Abstract: Data collection, storage, analysis, visualization, and dissemination are changing rapidly due to advances in new technologies driven by computer science and universal access to the internet. These technologies and web connections place human observers front and center in citizen science-driven research and are critical in generating new discoveries and innovation in such fields as astronomy, biodiversity, and meteorology. Research projects utilizing a citizen science approach address scientific problems at regional, continental, and even global scales otherwise impossible for a single lab or even a small collection of academic researchers. Here we describe eButterfly, an integrative checklist-based butterfly monitoring and database web-platform that leverages the skills and knowledge of recreational butterfly enthusiasts to create a globally accessible unified database of butterfly observations across North America. Citizen scientists, conservationists, policy makers, and scientists are using eButterfly data to better understand the biological patterns of butterfly species diversity and how environmental conditions shape these patterns in space and time. eButterfly in collaboration with thousands of butterfly enthusiasts has created a near real-time butterfly data resource producing tens of thousands of observations per year open to all to share and explore.

Source: Prudic, K.L., McFarland, K.P., Oliver, J.C., Hutchinson, R.A., Long, E.C., Kerr, J.T., Larrivée, M., 2017. eButterfly: Leveraging Massive Online Citizen Science for Butterfly Conservation. Insects 8(2): 53. DOI: 10.3390/insects8020053

Abstract: Citizen participation in online communities of scientific investigations has recently become more popular. Enhancing the engagement of citizens within these communities is a focus of attention for researchers and practitioners who want to amplify the impact on learning, science and society. This study investigates the relationship between engagement factors and behaviour patterns in an online community that requires high levels of citizen participation. While other studies explore engagement in communities where citizens contribute data, the current research investigates a community to support citizens in facilitating their own scientific investigations. Data were collected from log files and questionnaires, and multiple measures of engagement were examined: engagement metrics, roles, motivation, attitude, satisfaction and belonging to the community. The results allowed comparison of the engagement levels among different types of citizen participation communities and categorised members in engagement profiles, according to their behaviour patterns. Findings indicate a need for differing design approaches based on the type of citizen participation community and individual engagement profiles.

Source: Aristeidou, M., Scanlon, E., Sharples, M., 2017. Profiles of engagement in online communities of citizen science participation. Computers in Human Behavior 74: 246-256. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2017.04.044

Summary: In Citizen Science, members of the general public collaborate with scientists to generate and use data relating to the natural world. For the many fields of marine research, this is a particularly powerful approach which should not be overlooked. The sheer scale of coastal and ocean environments mean that it would take several lifetimes for scientists to study them alone. By collaborating with citizens, a much greater number of people can be mobilized to gather a wealth of data and develop new scientific knowledge and understanding. The variety of data types which are amenable to Citizen Science, as outlined in the position paper, are great, meaning that there could be a project to suit everyone. Citizen Science can also enable participants to improve their Ocean Literacy, gain new skills and experiences, and can also empower them to participate in the process of delivering future marine policy.

Now, more than ever, marine science research is needed to understand the impacts of a world undergoing change. The rise of Marine Citizen Science to help address this need is therefore timely. This paper highlights opportunities, challenges and best practice in Marine Citizen Science, and sets out a list of high-level strategic recommendations for the future development of Marine Citizen Science in Europe. It presents examples of existing Marine Citizen Science initiatives in Europe to illustrate good practice. Common concerns such as data quality and maintaining engagement are discussed, as are future opportunities such as increased use of technology and potential role of Marine Citizen Science in informing marine policy and conservation. The paper closes with a list of high-level strategic recommendations for the future development of Marine Citizen Science in Europe.

Source: European Marine Board, 2017. Garcia-Soto, C., van der Meeren, G. I., Busch, J. A., Delany, J., Domegan, C., Dubsky, K., Fauville, G., Gorsky, G., von Juterzenka, K., Malfatti, F., Mannaerts, G., McHugh, P., Monestiez, P., Seys, J., Węsławski, J.M. & Zielinski, O. (2017) Advancing Citizen Science for Coastal and Ocean Research. French, V., Kellett, P., Delany, J., McDonough, N. [Eds.] Position Paper 23 of the European Marine Board, Ostend, Belgium. 112pp. ISBN: 978-94-92043-30-6

Abstract: The validity of the threat status assigned to a species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List relies heavily on the accuracy of the geographic range size estimate for that species. Range maps used to assess threat status often contain large areas of unsuitable habitat, thereby overestimating range and underestimating threat. In this study, we assessed 18 endemic birds of the Western Ghats to test the accuracy of the geographic range sizes used by the IUCN for their threat assessment. Using independently reviewed data from the world’s largest citizen science database (eBird) within a species distribution modeling framework, our results show that: (a) geographic ranges have been vastly overestimated by IUCN for 17 of the 18 endemic bird species; (b) range maps used by IUCN contain large areas of unsuitable habitat, and (c) ranges estimated in this study suggest provisional uplisting of IUCN threat status for at least 10 of the 18 species based on area metrics used by the IUCN for threat assessment. Since global range size is an important parameter for assigning IUCN threat status, citizen science datasets, high resolution and freely available geo-referenced ecological data, and the latest species distribution modeling techniques should be used to estimate and track changes in range extent whenever possible. The methods used here to significantly revise range estimates have important conservation management implications not only for endemic birds in the Western Ghats, but for vertebrate and invertebrate taxa worldwide.

Source: Ramesh, V., Gopalakrishna, T., Barve, S., Melnick, D.J., 2017. IUCN greatly underestimates threat levels of endemic birds in the Western Ghats. Biological Conservation, 210(Part A): 205–221. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2017.03.01

Abstract: This paper presents an observatory for registering applications that use participatory sensing to collect data. Cataloging these applications will aid the scientific community to exchange more information, facilitating the comparison between different initiatives. Through an initial research, the applications are categorized in areas usually considered in the literature. We propose a survey to validate the platform and also discuss the taxonomies created as a result of this survey. The main contributions of this paper include the classification of crowdsensing applications in different ontological categories, as well as the proposal of a technology platform that enables the distributed and collaborative cataloging of crowdsensing initiatives.

Source: Melo, G., Oliveira, L., Schneider, D., de Souza, J., 2017. Towards an observatory for mobile participatory sensing applications. In: 21st International Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work in Design, Wellington, New Zealand. April 2017.