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Different Citizen Science roles

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Dr Ken Walker, Senior Entomology Curator for Museum Victoria, traces the development of citizen science in Australia. Unlike many countries in the northern hemisphere, Citizen Science has only developed in recent decades in Australia. Therefore it is notable that while the northern hemisphere has three citizen science websites, two in America (Project Noah, iNaturalist) and one hosted by the British Museum (iSpot), already in Australia a highly successful citizen science website Bowerbird (www.bowerbird.org.au) has now completed its second year of operation and already has over three thousand members.

Ken Walker discusses two approaches to citizen science, each with different goals. The “Directed” occurs when a scientist creates a project and seeks out volunteers to help collect data. For example, the project may be a survey focussed on a single, easily observed and identified animal, such as koalas or a rare bird or plant.

A second approach is the “Serendipitous” approach which gathers data that expands our knowledge of biodiversity generally. It involves the unrestricted observations and recordings that are also called naturalistic observation.

This is the approach encouraged on BowerBird which insists on the observation record to contain either an image or video or sound recording to provide corroborated evidence for the record, as well as location and date of recording. All BowerBird records are uploaded to The Atlas of Living Australia (
www.ala.org.au ) website which is Australia’s National Biodiversity data aggregator.

There are now over 20,000 BowerBird images and identified records as dots on maps on this website, showing that this approach has found new species as well as making significant increases in species distributions in some cases.

Dr Ken Walker was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Summary text prepared by Victor Barry June 2015.

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