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Googling Trends in Conservation Biology
- PROULX, RAPHAËL, MASSICOTTE, PHILIPPE, PÉPINO, MARC
- Conservation biology 2014 v.28 no.1 pp. 44-51
- Culicidae, Internet, algorithms, biodiversity, climate change, ecosystem services, ecosystems, environmental management, invasive species, pollen, research and development, wildlife management, United States
- Web‐crawling approaches, that is, automated programs data mining the internet to obtain information about a particular process, have recently been proposed for monitoring early signs of ecosystem degradation or for establishing crop calendars. However, lack of a clear conceptual and methodological framework has prevented the development of such approaches within the field of conservation biology. Our objective was to illustrate how Google Trends, a freely accessible web‐crawling engine, can be used to track changes in timing of biological processes, spatial distribution of invasive species, and level of public awareness about key conservation issues. Google Trends returns the number of internet searches that were made for a keyword in a given region of the world over a defined period. Using data retrieved online for 13 countries, we exemplify how Google Trends can be used to study the timing of biological processes, such as the seasonal recurrence of pollen release or mosquito outbreaks across a latitudinal gradient. We mapped the spatial extent of results from Google Trends for 5 invasive species in the United States and found geographic patterns in invasions that are consistent with their coarse‐grained distribution at state levels. From 2004 through 2012, Google Trends showed that the level of public interest and awareness about conservation issues related to ecosystem services, biodiversity, and climate change increased, decreased, and followed both trends, respectively. Finally, to further the development of research approaches at the interface of conservation biology, collective knowledge, and environmental management, we developed an algorithm that allows the rapid retrieval of Google Trends data.