Opportunities and Challenges for the Contribution of Citizen Science to High-Quality, Traceable Indicators of Biodiversity in the Context of Climate Change

Friday, 19 December 2014: 4:30 PM
Jake F Weltzin, US Geological Survey, Tucson, AZ, United States; USA National Phenology Network, Tucson, AZ, United States
Indicators of climate change are designed to communicate key aspects of the status and trends of the physical climate, climate impacts, vulnerabilities, and preparedness to inform both decision makers and the public. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a suite of “Indicators of Climate Change” and the US Global Change Research Program delivers indicators via its “Global Change Information System” (GCIS). The process of research, development and delivery of appropriate indicators of linked to climate change faces challenges including but not limited to (1) lack of data for relevant variables across longitudinal time scales with a defined relationship to climate variation or change, (2) sufficient density and distribution of data across spatial scales to support indicator development for researchers, natural resource managers and decision-makers, and (3) limited engagement of intended stakeholders who may not understand how the data were derived or the potential application of the indicator to their domain. Recent advances in the field of public participation in scientific research (PPSR), also known as “citizen science,” represents a potential innovation in monitoring, research, information management and public engagement that can address several of these challenges. Citizen science datasets already available can be decades long and collected at many sites across broad spatial scales; by their nature, they create direct engagement with stakeholders and the public. For example, bird distribution data collected by citizen scientists participating in the continental-scale Christmas Bird Count since 1900 are used in EPA’s indicator for “Bird Wintering Ranges.” Similarly, plant leafing data collected across the nation since 1956 are combined with meteorological data to create a modeled indicator of plant leafing dates for the GCIS. This presentation will focus on (1) challenges to the development of ecological indicators of biodiversity linked to environmental variation and climate change, (2) how citizen science can address these challenges within suitable domains or disciplines, and (3) minimal requirements for citizen science projects to maximize their contribution to the production of high-quality, traceable indicators of biodiversity.