Our Discovery Mission
Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to discover and document all remaining Australian species of plants, animals, fungi and other organisms ... in a generation.
Part 3 - Whiteboards
The ideas below have been contributed to the whiteboard for discussion during the roundtable breakouts. You can add to them on the Whiteboard ideas page
Roundtable 8: What role can citizen science play in our mission?
Citizen science is increasingly important and popular, for a range of reasons. Many programs use citizen scientists to record aspects of biodiversity, usually observation records and images. But while these have some relevance to taxonomy (by adding new observations for known species, and occasionally serendipitously finding new species), on the whole they are fairly peripheral to taxonomy per se. This roundtable will consider issues around citizen science and taxonomy, including:
Can we make better use of citizen science for species discovery, delimitation and documentation, and if so, how?
How would this be for a targeted 'citizen science' project. The Current Practices roundtable, and Erinn Fagan-Jeffries beaut talk, identified an issue that is a slow- (and sometimes a choke-) point in Australian taxonomy projects - the problem of hard-to-track down Australian types in European institutions. So how about we set up a project where we enroll retired (or student) taxonomists in Europe who have an interest in particular taxonomic groups and live close to some of the large institutions to help. We'd set up a clearing-house mechanism - Australian taxonomists would put onto the project board the types they need found, and the European partners would be notified when any come up that are in their area of expertise. The system then connects the European and Australian partners, for more detailed communications.
Citizen scientists can help us to perform tasks that require large time commitments and little to no knowledge of the species under study. Field work for example, is greatly enhanced when citizen scientists sample from different areas around Australia.
Yes we can make better use of citizen scientists! As the only researcher in Australia working on hornworts or particular genera of liverworts, I cannot be in all potential habitats across Australia for these plants. This is where citizen scientists come into their forte. Nationwide call outs can be made for specific groups for the public to report. If the reports happen to occur on their own properties, collections could be made and sent to the relevant institution. Or the researcher could target that area as a possible fieldtrip site.
As I do not have much to comment on this, I wonder if it would be good to have workshops around how citizen science can benefit a taxonomic project and what are the first steps in forming a robust citizen science project that has a positive implication for taxonomic work.
Can we make better use of specimens collected as part of university assessments? For example, most university entomology classes require students to make insect collections. These are done every year by a pool of (mostly) motivated students. It seems a waste to not use the data collected by students.
I imagine that citizen science projects could also be incorporated into units of study across universities resulting in bigger impact. Students would have the opportunity to get involved in 'real world science' and researchers would get access to a large pool of student workers.
Citizen science projects have huge potential to discover new species and extend the known range of other species, but need much more support and cooperation with taxonomic experts. I run the Wild Pollinator Count, and while we don't require photos for submissions, many people do submit photos, often seeking identification. As we run the project on no budget, we don't have the time or expertise to respond with species-level identification, and it's likely many couldn't be taken to species anyway! But these type of projects really are collecting great information resources and more funding to support collaboration between citizen science projects and taxonomists would be great
As a museum curator, I mainly see my research group as dead specimens. Citizen science images opened my eyes to the live animal, its habitat , biology and its connections. On Facebook I recently saw the first example for a subgenus of a maze, horizontal nesting behaviour whereas the norm for this genus is to dig a vertical tunnel with side laterals. Museums hold wonderful collections for past species distributions but citizen science is now providing current distributions. Contact with these people can result in specimens being sent from remote locations rather than conducting field work myself.
Programs such as DigiVol have seemingly worked well and there is much interest from the public in seeing collections behind the scenes and becoming citizen scientists. We could definitely ramp up databasing of collections by taking specimen photos and label photos for people to database this information externally.
WE need to tap into the Indigenous Ranger system and encourage/train them to collect material on their lands
Citizen science is a powerful tool for aiding taxonomy as long as these initiatives are geared specifically for the benefit of active research. Given the numerous activities that occupy the taxonomist's time, this is required for professional buy-in. A citizen taxonomic workforce can be trained via web videos
and workshops to document and collect specimens. Online "bioblitzes" can be organized at a national scale to capture species occurrences for single time point. Apps like iNaturalist are great ways to capture metadata, and, with training and metadata requirements, valuable collections can be made to be accessioned into permanent collections at the discretion of curators. This has been the approach of the North American Mycoflora Project (mycoflora.org).
Use of collection images to document morphology, phenology; and enhange specimen metadata
Define citizen science - can mounting volunteers (for example) be called citizen scientists?
Improved advocacy for taxonomy, collections by engaging through programs
More (or better) ideas? Add them here.