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The growing promise of community-based monitoring and citizen science

American Institute of Biological Sciences

Research News

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IMAGE: Volunteer monitoring programs, such as eBird, typically rely on observations made by nonscientist members of the public. view more 

Credit: Kayla Farmer

Over recent decades, community-based environmental monitoring (often called "citizen science") has exploded in popularity, aided both by smartphones and rapid gains in computing power that make the analysis of large data sets far easier.

Publishing in BioScience, handling editors Rick Bonney, of Cornell University, Finn Danielsen, of the Nordic Foundation for Development and Ecology, and colleagues share a special section that highlights numerous community-based monitoring programs currently underway. They also describe the potential for such efforts to advance the scientific enterprise well into the future and make recommendations for best practices and future directions.

In an article on locally based monitoring, Danielsen and colleagues describe the potential for monitoring by local community members--who may have little scientific training--to deliver "credible data at local scale independent of external experts and can be used to inform local and national decision making within a short timeframe." The authors argue that this important source of data can prove particularly valuable in areas in which scientist-led monitoring is sparse or too costly to administer.

Community-based monitoring efforts also have the potential to empower Indigenous rightsholders and stakeholders through their broader inclusion in the scientific process, writes Bonney in an introductory Viewpoint. Likewise, he explains, "Indigenous and local peoples' in situ knowledge practices have the potential to make significant contributions to meeting contemporary sustainability challenges both locally and around the globe." This topic is explored in depth in an Overview article by Maria Tengö and colleagues.

A contribution from Noor Johnson and colleagues discusses the role of digital platforms in enabling community-based monitoring, including among Indigenous communities. While digital platforms, such as those that use smartphones, have the potential to improve data management in community-based monitoring, the authors caution that care must be taken with sensitive data and that such platforms may "increase inequities across communities because being able to use digital tools requires technical capacity that may or may not exist at the community level."

Key to realizing the potential of community-based monitoring will be linking large-scale, top-down monitoring programs with bottom-up approaches managed or initiated at the community level, write Hajo Eicken and colleagues a short video about the article can be found here. This effort will rely on a number of factors, including an ability to match program aims and scales while also fostering compatibility in methodology and data management--and ensuring that Indigenous intellectual property rights are respected. Only by linking monitoring programs, argue the authors, will it be possible to fully realize the value of community-based monitoring and effectively respond to the rapidly changing global environment.

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The Special Section on Community-Based Monitoring will be published in BioScience's June issue.

BioScience, published monthly by Oxford Journals, is the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). BioScience is a forum for integrating the life sciences that publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles. The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is an organization for professional scientific societies and organizations, and individuals, involved with biology. AIBS provides decision-makers with high-quality, vetted information for the advancement of biology and society. Follow BioScience on Twitter @AIBSbiology.

Oxford Journals is a division of Oxford University Press. Oxford Journals publishes well over 300 academic and research journals covering a broad range of subject areas, two-thirds of which are published in collaboration with learned societies and other international organizations. The division has been publishing journals for more than a century, and as part of the world's oldest and largest university press, has more than 500 years of publishing expertise behind it. Follow Oxford Journals on Twitter @OxfordJournals.

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