What is citizen science?

While observations from amateur naturalists have been important for centuries, citizen science projects have proliferated in the past decade. This may in part be due to the Internet and development of smartphone apps allowing for crowdsourcing of data collection over large geographic regions. This allows for tracking ecological and social impacts of large scale environmental changes.

Citizen science is a good match for the field of urban ecology as data can be gathered from otherwise privately held residential land, back yards and gardens. The actives of individuals at this local scale, such as bird feeding, while occurring on small parcels of land could sum to generate cumulative impacts at regional and continental scales.  This is why it is important to consider human behaviour and practices such as water use, pesticide use, planting of native or introduced plants when trying to understand the impacts of cultural and behavioural practices on urban biodiversity.

Citizen science can be very effective when it helps finding solutions to problem of community relevance. For example The Australian Bird Feeding and Watering Study (2014-2017) was developed to answer two main questions asked by the public – can I feed my backyard birds? And if so, what can I feed them? Collaborations between scientists and volunteers have the potential to broaden the scope of research and enhance the ability to collect scientific data.

Understanding what motivates people to interact with urban wildlife is becoming increasingly important as gardens play a larger role as refuge for wildlife. I am passionate about working with the public to answer their questions about the wonderful wildlife they encounter and how to support it better through their gardening practices and behaviour; for example, planting native grasses, having water sources and installing nest boxes and frog ponds.