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Hierarchical toolbox: Ensuring scientific accuracy of citizen science for tropical coastal ecosystems

Vermeiren, P., Munoz, C., Zimmer, M., Sheaves, M.
Ecological indicators 2016 v.66 pp. 242-250
crabs, data collection, ecological function, ecosystems, environmental indicators, human population, population growth, professionals, rapid methods, scientists
Increased human population growth threatens the ecological functioning and goods and services provided by tropical coastal ecosystems. However, a lack of scientific baselines and resources hamper efforts to develop and monitor ecological indicators of environmental change. Citizen science can provide a cost and time effective solution, but needs considerable context specific development to ensure it provides valid information of the quality level required for acceptance by the scientific community. We reviewed the use of sampling methods for shore crabs as an example of an abundant tropical coastal organism with high citizen science suitability and ecological indicator capacity. We propose a hierarchical toolbox based on the distinction between rapid methods, allowing fast, noninvasive sampling by independent citizens, and medium speed methods allowing detailed but more invasive sampling requiring trained citizens working in close interaction with professionals. The hierarchical structure enables full use of the large scale data collection ability of citizen scientists at lower levels, while ensuring validation of errors at higher levels. Additionally, at each level, bias reduction and data validation measures can be employed. We conclude that citizen science methodologies can provide accurate large scale data to develop the ecological baselines urgently needed to monitor and manage environmental change in many tropical coastal ecosystems. We discuss a stepwise implementation of the toolbox leading to accuracy metadata which can be independently reviewed as an ultimate accuracy assessment and data integration mechanism among multiple projects.