Expert variability provides perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of citizen driven intertidal monitoring program
Citizen scientist programs are a means to efficiently conduct large-scale surveys of ecosystems or managed species, provided that concerns over the quality and use of data generated by nonexperts can be addressed. This study presents actions taken in a citizen science program to assure data quality and demonstrates the validity of citizen-generated data. In this case the accuracy of data collected by secondary school students as citizens in a program that quantitatively sampled benthic rocky intertidal communities at 13 sites onMaui, Molokai, Oahu, and Hawai‘i island during the years 2004–2007 was evaluated. In 2007, two independent research teams collected data simultaneously with students at five sites on eight sampling dates. Comparisons of Shannon diversity and Bray-Curtis similarity values computed and simulated from student and researcher collected data revealed that nonexpert students accurately collect community-level data within the range of the variation that occurs between researchers. Students were, however, likely to misidentify cryptic and rare species. These findings have direct implications for the conservation goals of the monitoring program as the assessment reveals that students are likely to misidentify early alien introductions but are able to monitor the abundances of native and introduced species once they become established. The validity assessment designed for this investigation is unique in that it directly compares consistent errors made by citizens in data collection to expert variability to identify usage limitations and can be a guide for future studies that involve the efforts of trained volunteers.
Cox, T. E., Philippoff, J. K., Baumgartner, E., & Smith, C. M. (2012). Expert variability provides perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of citizen driven intertidal monitoring program. Ecological Applications, 22(4), 1201–1212.