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Citizen data communities

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Volunteers add value to ALA datasets

Peter Brenton, Atlas of Living Australia

Citizen DataTo provide the range and depth of data available through the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) we rely on many sources of input. The ALA believes that data and insights gained through the efforts of citizen science can be just as valuable as those obtained by scientists working in academia, natural history collections, government agencies and business.

We get all kinds of people contributing to the ALA, from locals adding sightings of plants and animals in their area to the 1000+ volunteers who contribute through DigiVol, our crowd sourcing tool for digitising hand written records into the ALA.

The ALA is partnered with the Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA) to provide a citizen science project finder and data collection tool (biocollect.ala.org.au). This also interoperates with other global citizen science project registries to improve global project discovery and public participation.

‘Citizen’-based contributions to mainstream scientific investigations are becoming increasingly important. Technology is helping to facilitate this by enabling projects to be more accessible to the public, providing greater effectiveness of communications between science practitioners and citizen scientists, as well as providing accessible data collection and management tools which improve the flow and quality of data.

Through citizen science we gain valuable current and on-going contributions to scientific knowledge at local, regional and national levels at a time where the cost of running comprehensive more traditional scientific surveys is becoming increasingly expensive. Making opportunities for people to actively participate in real scientific endeavours where their contributions are valued also opens pathways for more people to become professionally involved in science.

Divers and fishers map Australian marine life

Jemina Stuart-Smith, Redmap

Redmap (Range Extension Database & Mapping Project) is an interactive project that engages and inspires citizen scientists across Australia to become involved and aware of what is happening in the marine environment.

The project  is centred around a website and phone app encouraging community members (in particular divers and fishers) to report sightings of marine species observed outside their normal distribution range. Once submitted, sighting observations are verified by a team of scientists from around the country, and then  displayed on the website.

snapperCoronation TroutYellowtail kingfish

Understanding change

One of the most widespread impacts of climate change is the global redistribution of species, or species ‘range shifts’, as our natural systems respond to changing environmental conditions.Identifying possible range shifts in marine species is critical for understanding the impact of climate change on ecosystems and on our ability to be appropriately prepared to respond.

Through participation in Redmap, the community are actively engaged in the generation of knowledge about how our marine systems are responding to both short and long term environmental patterns and changes. Redmap is a powerful yet simple and positive way to engage people on issues of biodiversity and climate change. It also provides opportunities to learn about scientific principles related to species biology and ecology, oceanography, marine habitats and many other scientific concepts that users may not normally be exposed to.

Redmap provides an easy avenue for active involvement, demonstrating clearly how the data are important. This facilitates an informed community and provides an effective tool for communicating scientific issues, as well as increasing public participation in data collection.

Over time, Redmap will use this ‘citizen science’ data to map which Australian marine species may be extending their distribution range in response to changes in the marine environment, such as ocean warming. The data also highlight regions and species that may be experiencing more distribution  changes so that research can be focused into these areas. With unprecedented access to real time ecological observations through advances in geo-referenced technology, automated workflows and the ability to include semi-automated data collation features, citizen science projects present an effective  means to increase scientifically-rigorous data capture via community involvement.

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