Written by Gisele Sylvie F. Ferreira
Illustration by Savio Aquino
Published 2022 March 25
More often than not, science data collection from a day-to-day perspective can feel intangible. When trying to learn and grasp concepts such as climate change and understanding biodiversity, one can feel detached from it due to factors such as not being able to first handedly see it or deal with the numbers. However, what if you were able to actively collect data and information about these issues and contribute to a greater understanding of the world around us? This is where the term “citizen science” comes into play. Citizen science can be defined as “the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research to increase scientific knowledge” and thus people are able to share and contribute to data monitoring and collection programs .
Over the years, citizen scientists have participated in events helping with biodiversity documentation. One particular and popular program the public, usually young students ranging until adults, can participate in is known as a BioBlitz. First coined by Susan Rudy, a U.S. National Park Service naturalist , BioBlitzes aim to bring together scientists and public volunteers to conduct mass field surveying. Although mostly conducted in North America, Europe and Australia, the first BioBlitz happened in Washington, D.C.’s Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in 1996 with intentions of documenting the biodiversity in the area . With the help of this bioblitz, a great number of species were able to be reported in addition to the 900 species found by scientists within that first year .
There are some instances, however, where certain BioBlitzes will require “experts” or those that have a level of background in biology or wildlife. This can include those that are undergraduate students or those that work in wildlife preservation institutions. In bringing such people together, through BioBlitzes, great things can be accomplished. A study in Florida gathered a group of both juvenile and adult researchers to look into and confirm the existence of the non-native croaking gourami Trichopsis vittata. In addition to not only finding that the species was present in “a relatively small geographic range,” during the course of the investigation on a sampling day event a Jack Dempsey cichlid or Rocio octofasciata was found which was not previously known in the area . The unexpected and surprising result of finding the Rocio octofasciata led to more “expert” BioBlitzes called “Fish Slams” and the formation of the Florida Non-Native Fish Action Alliance in 2012. Since 2012, almost 200 sites have been sampled alongside finding 36 non-native fish taxa .
It can be seen that collaborations between science citizens and scientists can lead to a wider documentation as well as help reaffirm scientific information. The largest BioBlitz was conducted in 2016, hosted by The National Park Service and National Geographic Society. In more than 120 national parks, people everywhere (mainly North America) were able to help contribute in finding and documenting species in national parks nearest them . Using an app called iNaturalist, the citizen scientists were able to put their observations into the system. As such, the incorporation of this new data into the pre-existing data on the species in each national park, allowed for an update in taxonomic information and species range shifts as well as new invasions . This illustrates a bridge being created between people of the public and the scientific community wherein everyone can have an impact on science-related data gathering.
The usage of the iNaturalist app has had a prominent impact on the documentation of biodiversity around the world. It allows for locals within an area participating in a BioBlitz to be able to quickly track and input data. In fact, the iNaturalist app was used in a BioBlitz conducted at the University of Mindanao in August 2019 in association with the National Geographic Society . With over 200 participants ranging from students and teachers to those in other industries, the event was able to generate 507 observations, 139 species, and 69 participants who uploaded photos they took of the species . All those participating were able to actively engage with their environment all the while learning more about it in a fun and collaborative manner.
Citizen scientists help bring scientific knowledge to the forefront of the public and aid in creating a more tangible connection between members of society and the world around us. Should a BioBlitz event interest you, look into it more or maybe even be one to initiate and lead an event. Understanding the world better does not just have to be done by scientists, you can take part too.
- Ullrich C. Citizen Science [Internet]. National Geographic. [cited 21 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/citizen-science/
- Zevit P. So You Want To Do A BioBlitz. Project: Diversity by Design Restoring Habitat for Species at Risk on BC’s South Coast. 2016 [cited 21 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/312237375_So_you_want_to_do_a_BioBlitz
- Boudreau D, McDaniel M, Sprout E, Turgeon A. Bioblitz [Internet]. National Geographic. [cited 21 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/bioblitz/
- Schofield PJ. Expert bioblitzes facilitate non-native fish tracking and interagency partnerships [Internet]. Management of Biological Invasions 11(1): 139–154. 2020 [cited 19 March 2022]. Available from: https://doi.org/10.3391/mbi.2020.11.1.10
- Automating the use of citizen scientists’ biodiversity surveys in iNaturalist to facilitate early detection of species’ responses to climate change [Internet]. United States Geological Survey. 2017 [cited 19 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.usgs.gov/centers/community-for-data-integration-cdi/science/automating-use-citizen-scientists-biodiversity#overview
- UM partners with NatGeo–led science activities [Internet]. Mindanao Times. 2019 [cited 19 March 2022]. Available from: https://mindanaotimes.com.ph/2019/09/18/um-partners-with-natgeo-led-science-activities/