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Evaluating the Quality of Citizen-Scientist Data on Pollinator Communities

Conservation Biology


Concerns about pollinator declines have grown in recent years, yet the ability to detect changes in abundance, taxonomic richness, and composition of pollinator communities is hampered severely by the lack of data over space and time. Citizen scientists may be able to extend the spatial and temporal extent of pollinator monitoring programs. We developed a citizen-science monitoring protocol in which we trained 13 citizen scientists to observe and classify floral visitors at the resolution of orders or super families (e. g., bee, wasp, fly) and at finer resolution within bees (superfamily Apoidea) only. We evaluated the protocol by comparing data collected simultaneously at 17 sites by citizen scientists (observational data set) and by professionals (specimen-based data set). The sites differed with respect to the presence and age of hedgerows planted to improve habitat quality for pollinators. We found significant, positive correlations among the two data sets for higher level taxonomic composition, honey bee (Apis mellifera) abundance, non-Apis bee abundance, bee richness, and bee community similarity. Results for both data sets also showed similar trends (or lack thereof) in these metrics among sites differing in the presence and age of hedgerows. Nevertheless, citizen scientists did not observe approximately half of the bee groups collected by professional scientists at the same sites. Thus, the utility of citizen-science observational data may be restricted to detection of community-level changes in abundance, richness, or similarity over space and time, and citizen-science observations may not reliably reflect the abundance or frequency of occurrence of specific pollinator species or groups.

Author(s): Kremen, C; Ullmann, KS; Thorp, RW

Journal: Conservation Biology

Year: 2011