• Examining the Effectiveness of Citizen Science in Wildlife Conservation

      Gimblett, Howard R.; Reynolds, Emily Ann; Gimblett, Howard R.; Swann, Don E.; Culver, Melanie; Bott, Suzanne E. (The University of Arizona., 2016)
      The purpose of this research was to develop, implement, and evaluate a citizen science program to survey and monitor for jaguars (Panthera onca) and ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) within key mountain ranges in southwest Arizona. I had three main objectives: 1.) develop and implement a citizen science program to train participants with little or no knowledge of wildlife conservation, 2.) identify program effectiveness in comparison with experts in terms of the quality of data gathered and the financial and administrative costs/benefits, 3.) understand what creates an effective citizen science program and how it can be replicated in the future. This research examined the efficacy of using citizen science as a tool to connect the public and scientific community through education and a research-based project. A network of citizen scientists were provided extensive education and training by field experts to participate in jaguar and ocelot monitoring in southern Arizona. The scale and scope of this project is unprecedented in the citizen science literature; participants drove and hiked off-trail monitoring wildlife cameras monthly for a minimum of one year in extremely rugged backcountry conditions in the mountains near the U.S./Mexico border. Citizen science participants were challenged by terrain, weather, and border issues during their time on this project. Despite these challenges, our group of nine citizen scientists successfully downloaded and sorted 28,637 photos from 22 cameras at 14 monitoring sites over 12 months. They logged a total of 327 hours of fieldwork including driving, hiking, and performing camera maintenance. After finishing a site visit, citizen scientists also sorted photos identifying wildlife, logging approximately 109 hours of data organization. In addition, 100% of our citizen scientists adhered to our protocols that we tested and implemented in the field over a one-year period. Citizen scientists continue to monitor remote wildlife cameras in the rugged mountainous regions of this southern Arizona study area. Citizen science is often criticized because of skepticism from the scientific community regarding data integrity, quality control, and potentially biased data. This research aimed to exam the data integrity of citizen scientists by comparing it to the data analyzed by experts. When comparing the ability of citizen scientists and field team experts in sorting and correctly identifying wildlife, I found strong positive correlations between the levels of data quality. These high positive correlations indicate that, with training, citizen scientists are capable of accurately identifying wildlife from camera data nearly as well as the field team experts, and can be an excellent surrogate for experts. Connecting volunteers to the natural landscape through hands-on science research has the potential to create many positive experiences. Citizen science can increase participant’s knowledge of science, build trust and foster understanding, and can create a more informed public. Despite these benefits, data integrity is the most important aspect of research and data collected by non-scientists remains heavily scrutinized. Collaboration amongst professionals, educators, program designers, and data managers is necessary to ensure that project goals are achieved while maintaining scientific integrity. Continuing to examine citizen science programs is important to advance the field of citizen science and foster meaningful relationships between the public and scientists. This study provided a unique opportunity to use non-scientists to augment data collection and assessment in the scientific workplace to advance jaguar and ocelot conservation. We strongly believe that citizen scientists remain an underutilized resource for helping scientists collect and analyze data in a climate of reduced funding and increasing need for long-term monitoring.