Citizen scientist vs ‘professional’ scientist

How reliable is this volunteer-collected information?

Ecological surveys are important. When done in a rigorous and systematic manner they can inform us about a species’ population size and trends, habitat preferences and changes in distribution. They can tell us what to manage when, if our management is working and alert us to the need for policy reform. But systematic surveys over large areas by professionals are usually expensive. Volunteer surveys, on the other hand, are relatively cheap; and they are also often the only source of available information. The important question then is: How reliable is this volunteer-collected information?

Not many studies have been undertaken that examine this question because there aren’t many places where both a systematic and a volunteer survey of have been conducted over the same time frame at sufficient spatial scale. One place where this has happened, however, is with bird surveys in the Mount Lofty Ranges in South Australia. When we embarked on the comparison we strongly suspected that the volunteer-collected Birds-Australia atlas data would be highly biased. However, we were pleasantly surprised…

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