Focal Plant Observations as a Standardised Method for Pollinator Monitoring: Opportunities and Limitations for Mass Participation Citizen Science

TitleFocal Plant Observations as a Standardised Method for Pollinator Monitoring: Opportunities and Limitations for Mass Participation Citizen Science
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsRoy, HE, Baxter, E, Saunders, A, Pocock, MJO
JournalPlos One
Volume11
AbstractBackground Recently there has been increasing focus on monitoring pollinating insects, due to concerns about their declines, and interest in the role of volunteers in monitoring pollinators, particularly bumblebees, via citizen science. Methodology / Principal Findings The Big Bumblebee Discovery was a one-year citizen science project run by a partnership of EDF Energy, the British Science Association and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology which sought to assess the influence of the landscape at multiple scales on the diversity and abundance of bumblebees. Timed counts of bumblebees (Bombus spp.; identified to six colour groups) visiting focal plants of lavender (Lavendula spp.) were carried out by about 13 000 primary school children (7-11 years old) from over 4000 schools across the UK. 3948 reports were received totalling 26 868 bumblebees. We found that while the wider landscape type had no significant effect on reported bumblebee abundance, the local proximity to flowers had a significant effect (fewer bumblebees where other flowers were reported to be >5m away from the focal plant). However, the rate of mis-identifcation, revealed by photographs uploaded by participants and a photo-based quiz, was high. Conclusions / Significance Our citizen science results support recent research on the importance of local flocal resources on pollinator abundance. Timed counts of insects visiting a lure plant is potentially an effective approach for standardised pollinator monitoring, engaging a large number of participants with a simple protocol. However, the relatively high rate of mis-identifications (compared to reports from previous pollinator citizen science projects) highlights the importance of investing in resources to train volunteers. Also, to be a scientifically valid method for enquiry, citizen science data needs to be sufficiently high quality, so receiving supporting evidence (such as photographs) would allow this to be tested and for records to be verified.

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