|The value of marine ecological data collected by volunteers|In: Biological Conservation. Elsevier: Barking. ISSN 0006-3207, more
Conservation; Quality control; Validation; Marine
Volunteer data; Littoral species mapping
|Authors|| || Top |
- Foster-Smith, J.
- Evans, S.M., more
Volunteers are potentially a huge scientific resource but there is scepticism among some scientists about the reliability of data collected by inexperienced people. An assessment was therefore made of the ability of a group of 13 volunteers, recruited by the Earthwatch Institute, to collect valid data in a project that aimed to map the distribution and abundance of common littoral organisms on shores of the Isle of Cumbrae, Scotland. The volunteers ranged considerably in age, educational background, knowledge and experience. They were capable of performing straight-forward tasks, such as learning to identify species, recording their occurrence on specific parts of the shore and making length measurements of samples of some gastropods. They made some recording errors during the fieldwork but similar errors were also made by experienced scientists and it is recommended therefore that all ecological studies should include quality control of data whether or not they involve volunteers. The assessment of abundance was problematic. Volunteers’ assessments for some species were inconsistent and there is evidence that individuals interpreted the scale in different ways. It is suggested that these problems stemmed from: (1) a lack of field experience in the volunteers; (2) inadequate guidelines on the use of the abundance scale; and (3) insufficient training before field surveys commenced. However, projects themselves may benefit in unexpected ways from the input of volunteers. They contributed taxonomic and computing skills to the current project. Members of the group also offered new insights by developing hypotheses relating to populations of gastropods during their fieldwork. These were tested and could have formed the basis of longer-term research programmes. There were also educational benefits for the volunteers who were involved in the project. These included increased knowledge of marine issues and clearer understanding of the ways in which scientific studies are undertaken.