Special Issue "Citizen Science for Biodiversity Conservation: Harnessing the Power of the Public to Address Wicked Conservation Problems"

A special issue of Diversity (ISSN 1424-2818).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 April 2021).

Special Issue Editors

Dr. John A. Cigliano
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Guest Editor
Cedar Crest College, Allentown, PA, USA
Interests: citizen science; marine conservation; ocean acidification and warming; marine microplastics; temperate rocky intertidal; behavioral ecology; conservation education
Dr. Tina Phillips
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Guest Editor
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA
Interests: community and citizen science; individual learning; socio-ecological outcomes; evaluation and assessment; ornithology and conservation; equity, diversity, and inclusion
Dr. Elizabeth R. Ellwood
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Interests: community science; conservation; ecology; natural history collections; phenology
Dr. Amanda E. Sorensen
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA
Interests: science communication; participatory science; learning and behavior
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals
Dr. Monica Awasthy
E-Mail
Guest Editor
BirdLife Australia & Griffith University, Sydney, Australia
Interests: citizen science; urban ecology; wildlife biology; birds; conservation

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Biodiversity is threatened by a wide-range of anthropogenic stressors, from ocean acidification to zoonotic diseases, causing a loss of biodiversity that is affecting the integrity and resilience of ecosystems and the ecosystem services they provide. Many of these threats are wicked problems, that is, they are hard to define and can be highly contextual, often include stakeholders with conflicting positions, exhibit constant change that is often irreversible, and lack clear solutions. Citizen science is uniquely suited to address these issues because it can include multiple stakeholders who bring myriad perspectives and knowledge, foster learning and agency in individuals and communities, work on local to regional and global scales, and provide data in near real-time to inform decision making. 

This Special Issue will provide a forum to highlight how citizen science has, and could, address wicked problems related to biodiversity conservation. We are looking for papers addressing wicked problems through, but not limited to, research (both natural and social science) and management, public policy and governance, capacity-building, education, individual behavior-change, community and civic citizen science and engagement, informed advocacy, and the theory and practice of citizen science as it relates to biodiversity conservation. Theoretical and conceptual papers are welcome. We especially encourage papers that deal with wicked problems at regional, trans-national, or global scales but welcome all relevant papers.

We encourage interested contributors to submit an abstract to by 1 November 2020. If the abstract is approved, the deadline for submission of manuscript to the Special Issue is 15 April 2021.

Dr. John A. Cigliano
Dr. Tina Phillips
Dr. Elizabeth R. Ellwood
Dr. Amanda E. Sorensen
Dr. Monica Awasthy
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Diversity is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Citizen science
  • Wicked problems
  • Public participation in scientific research, biodiversity, conservation
  • Anthropogenic stressors
  • Anthropogenic threats

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Article
Concurrent Butterfly, Bat and Small Mammal Monitoring Programmes Using Citizen Science in Catalonia (NE Spain): A Historical Review and Future Directions
Diversity 2021, 13(9), 454; https://doi.org/10.3390/d13090454 - 21 Sep 2021
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Abstract
The Biodiversity and Bioindicators research group (BiBIO), based at the Natural Sciences Museum of Granollers, has coordinated four long-term faunal monitoring programmes based on citizen science over more than two decades in Catalonia (NE Spain). We summarize the historical progress of these programmes, [...] Read more.
The Biodiversity and Bioindicators research group (BiBIO), based at the Natural Sciences Museum of Granollers, has coordinated four long-term faunal monitoring programmes based on citizen science over more than two decades in Catalonia (NE Spain). We summarize the historical progress of these programmes, describing their main conservation outputs, the challenges overcome, and future directions. The Catalan Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (CBMS) consists of a network of nearly 200 recording sites where butterfly populations have been monitored through visual censuses along transects for nearly three decades. This programme provides accurate temporal and spatial changes in the abundance of butterflies and relates them to different environmental factors (e.g., habitat and weather conditions). The Bat Monitoring Programme has progressively evolved to include passive acoustic monitoring protocols, as well as bat box-, underground- and river-bat surveys, and community ecological indices have been developed to monitor bat responses at assemblage level to both landscape and climatic changes. The Monitoring of common small mammals in Spain (SEMICE), a common small mammal monitoring programme with almost 80 active live-trapping stations, provides information to estimate population trends and has underlined the relevance of small mammals as both prey (of several predators) and predators (of insect forest pests). The Dormouse Monitoring Programme represents the first monitoring programme in Europe using specific nest boxes for the edible dormouse, providing information about biological and demographic data of the species at the southern limit of its distribution range. The combination and complementarity of these monitoring programmes provide crucial data to land managers to improve the understanding of conservation needs and develop efficient protection laws. Full article
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Article
Transference of Citizen Science Program Impacts: A Theory Grounded in Public Participation in Scientific Research
Diversity 2021, 13(8), 339; https://doi.org/10.3390/d13080339 - 25 Jul 2021
Viewed by 595
Abstract
Citizen science is known for increasing the geographic, spatial, and temporal scale from which scientists can gather data. It is championed for its potential to provide experiential learning opportunities to the public. Documentation of educational outcomes and benefits for citizen scientists continues to [...] Read more.
Citizen science is known for increasing the geographic, spatial, and temporal scale from which scientists can gather data. It is championed for its potential to provide experiential learning opportunities to the public. Documentation of educational outcomes and benefits for citizen scientists continues to grow. This study proposes an added benefit of these collaborations: the transference of program impacts to individuals outside of the program. The experiences of fifteen citizen scientists in entomology citizen science programs were analyzed using a constructivist grounded theory methodology. We propose the substantive-level theory of transference to describe the social process by which the educational and attitudinal impacts intended by program leaders for the program participants are filtered by citizen scientists and transferred to others. This process involves individual and external phases, each with associated actions. Transference occurred in participants who had maintained a long-term interest in nature, joined a citizen science program, shared science knowledge and experiences, acquired an expert role to others, and influenced change in others. Transference has implications for how citizen scientists are perceived by professional communities, understanding of the broader impacts and contributions of citizen science to wicked problems, program evaluation, and the design of these programs as informal science education opportunities. Full article
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Article
How Do Young Community and Citizen Science Volunteers Support Scientific Research on Biodiversity? The Case of iNaturalist
Diversity 2021, 13(7), 318; https://doi.org/10.3390/d13070318 - 13 Jul 2021
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Abstract
Online community and citizen science (CCS) projects have broadened access to scientific research and enabled different forms of participation in biodiversity research; however, little is known about whether and how such opportunities are taken up by young people (aged 5–19). Furthermore, when they [...] Read more.
Online community and citizen science (CCS) projects have broadened access to scientific research and enabled different forms of participation in biodiversity research; however, little is known about whether and how such opportunities are taken up by young people (aged 5–19). Furthermore, when they do participate, there is little research on whether their online activity makes a tangible contribution to scientific research. We addressed these knowledge gaps using quantitative analytical approaches and visualisations to investigate 249 youths’ contributions to CCS on the iNaturalist platform, and the potential for the scientific use of their contributions. We found that nearly all the young volunteers’ observations were ‘verifiable’ (included a photo, location, and date/time) and therefore potentially useful to biodiversity research. Furthermore, more than half were designated as ‘Research Grade’, with a community agreed-upon identification, making them more valuable and accessible to biodiversity science researchers. Our findings show that young volunteers with lasting participation on the platform and those aged 16–19 years are more likely to have a higher proportion of Research Grade observations than younger, or more ephemeral participants. This study enhances our understanding of young volunteers’ contributions to biodiversity research, as well as the important role professional scientists and data users can play in helping verify youths’ contributions to make them more accessible for biodiversity research. Full article
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Article
The Use of Citizen Science to Achieve Multivariate Management Goals on Public Lands
Diversity 2021, 13(7), 293; https://doi.org/10.3390/d13070293 - 28 Jun 2021
Viewed by 742
Abstract
Federal land management agencies in the US are tasked with maintaining the ecological integrity of over 2 million km2 of land for myriad public uses. Citizen science, operating at the nexus of science, education, and outreach, offers unique benefits to address socio-ecological [...] Read more.
Federal land management agencies in the US are tasked with maintaining the ecological integrity of over 2 million km2 of land for myriad public uses. Citizen science, operating at the nexus of science, education, and outreach, offers unique benefits to address socio-ecological questions and problems, and thus may offer novel opportunities to support the complex mission of public land managers. Here, we use a case study of an iNaturalist program, the Tribal Nations Botanical Research Collaborative (TNBRC), to examine the use of citizen science programs in public land management. The TNBRC collected 2030 observations of 34 plant species across the project area, while offering learning opportunities for participants. Using occurrence data, we examined observational trends through time and identified five species with 50 or fewer digital observations to investigate as species of possible conservation concern. We compared predictive outcomes of habitat suitability models built using citizen science data and Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) data. Models exhibited high agreement, identifying the same underlying predictors of species occurrence and, 95% of the time, identifying the same pixels as suitable habitat. Actions such as staff training on data use and interpretation could enhance integration of citizen science in Federal land management. Full article
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Article
Citizen Science Contributions to Address Biodiversity Loss and Conservation Planning in a Rapidly Developing Region
Diversity 2021, 13(6), 255; https://doi.org/10.3390/d13060255 - 08 Jun 2021
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Abstract
Biodiversity data support conservation research and inform conservation decisions addressing the wicked problem of biodiversity loss. However, these data often need processing and compilation before use, which exceed the time availability of professional scientists. Nevertheless, scientists can recruit, train, and support a network [...] Read more.
Biodiversity data support conservation research and inform conservation decisions addressing the wicked problem of biodiversity loss. However, these data often need processing and compilation before use, which exceed the time availability of professional scientists. Nevertheless, scientists can recruit, train, and support a network of citizen scientists to prepare these data using online platforms. Here, we describe three citizen science projects sponsored by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission to transcribe and georeference historic herbarium specimens and document current biodiversity through iNaturalist for two highly biodiverse and rapidly developing counties in Northwest Arkansas, USA. Citizen science-generated data will be used in a county natural heritage inventory (CNHI) report, including a comprehensive list of taxa tied to voucher specimens and records for rare plant populations. Since the CNHI project started in 2018, citizen scientists have transcribed 8855 and georeferenced 2636 specimen records. From iNaturalist observations, 125 rare plant populations of 39 taxa have been documented. This CNHI report will determine the most critical taxa, habitats, and sites for conservation action in the region and will inform conservation stakeholders at the local, state, and federal levels as they engage in land acquisition, ecological restoration, natural resource management, planning of growth and development, and environmental review/regulation. Full article
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Article
Advancing Amphibian Conservation through Citizen Science in Urban Municipalities
Diversity 2021, 13(5), 211; https://doi.org/10.3390/d13050211 - 15 May 2021
Viewed by 1390
Abstract
As cities adopt mandates to protect, maintain and restore urban biodiversity, the need for urban ecology studies grows. Species-specific information on the effects of urbanization is often a limiting factor in designing and implementing effective biodiversity strategies. In suburban and exurban areas, amphibians [...] Read more.
As cities adopt mandates to protect, maintain and restore urban biodiversity, the need for urban ecology studies grows. Species-specific information on the effects of urbanization is often a limiting factor in designing and implementing effective biodiversity strategies. In suburban and exurban areas, amphibians play an important social-ecological role between people and their environment and contribute to ecosystem health. Amphibians are vulnerable to threats and imbalances in the aquatic and terrestrial environment due to a biphasic lifestyle, making them excellent indicators of local environmental health. We developed a citizen science program to systematically monitor amphibians in a large city in Alberta, Canada, where 90% of pre-settlement wetlands have been removed and human activities continue to degrade, alter, and/or fragment remaining amphibian habitats. We demonstrate successes and challenges of using publicly collected data in biodiversity monitoring. Through amphibian monitoring, we show how a citizen science program improved ecological knowledge, engaged the public in urban biodiversity monitoring and improved urban design and planning for biodiversity. We outline lessons learned to inform citizen science program design, including the importance of early engagement of decision makers, quality control assessment, assessing tensions in program design for data and public engagement goals, and incorporating conservation messaging into programming. Full article
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Concept Paper
Citizens, Scientists, and Enablers: A Tripartite Model for Citizen Science Projects
Diversity 2021, 13(7), 309; https://doi.org/10.3390/d13070309 - 08 Jul 2021
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Abstract
In this paper, we focus on different roles in citizen science projects, and their respective relationships. We propose a tripartite model that recognises not only citizens and scientists, but also an important third role, which we call the ‘enabler’. In doing so, we [...] Read more.
In this paper, we focus on different roles in citizen science projects, and their respective relationships. We propose a tripartite model that recognises not only citizens and scientists, but also an important third role, which we call the ‘enabler’. In doing so, we acknowledge that additional expertise and skillsets are often present in citizen science projects, but are frequently overlooked in associated literature. We interrogate this model by applying it to three case studies and explore how the success and sustainability of a citizen science project requires all roles to be acknowledged and interacting appropriately. In this era of ‘wicked problems’, the nature of science and science communication has become more complex. In order to address critical emerging issues, a greater number of stakeholders are engaging in multi-party partnerships and research is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary. Within this context, explicitly acknowledging the role and motivations of everyone involved can provide a framework for enhanced project transparency, delivery, evaluation and impact. By adapting our understanding of citizen science to better recognise the complexity of the organisational systems within which they operate, we propose an opportunity to strengthen the collaborative delivery of both valuable scientific research and public engagement. Full article
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