Citizen Science: Everything you need to know

What is ‘Citizen Science’?

A citizen scientist can be defined as a type of volunteer who gathers and submits data for scientific use. The use of the public as citizen scientists has long been a method used by scientists to engage for education and the collection of scientific information. In Australia, is it believed that the first citizen science project started in 1847 by colonial botanist Ferdinand Mueller, who recruited citizen scientists to help collect specimens of every plant in Australia and catalogue their description. Now in a modern context, citizen science has never been more accessible and relevant then it is today. Vast access to the internet, smartphone and electronic devices attached with global positioning systems and high-resolution camera functionality, now allows the public to contribute to citizen science projects anywhere in the world with more ease and accuracy than ever before.

Why is citizen science a useful tool?

Citizen science has numerous benefits for both the scientific community and the public. Primarily, citizen science provides a platform for scientists to collect tremendous quantities of data that would otherwise be unmanageable using traditional methods of labour. This is particularly useful in many fields like mosquito surveillance, where research has traditionally been financially, geographically and logistically restricted. Citizen science overcomes these limitations by utilising the public to constantly contribute scientific data over a vast area, be that on a local, national or international level.

Citizen science is not just a boundless tool for the scientific community in collecting information on a diverse array of projects and fields, it is also a useful tool for community engagement, education and for creating awareness on an array of scientific matters in the public.

Citizen science programmes such as our ‘Mozzie Monitors’ project can educate the broader community in a number of ways, improving science and health literacy. These programmes can allow for experiences in learning about science in the form of testing hypothesis and gathering data. Therefore, they can provide a scientific way of thinking which is an important skill for making focused decisions in how society is managed, today and in the future.

Mozzie Monitors team member Larissa Sousa engaging with citizen scientists, teaching them about the projects data gathered and the importance of her findings.

How do I become a Citizen Scientist?

Anyone can be a citizen scientist. In fact, in the 21st century, it has never been easier with the common attainability of modern technologies such as GPS tracking, high-quality cameras and access to the internet. Chances are if you are reading this, you already have all these things right on your phone!

In the last decade, Australia has become very active in the citizen science space with an array of projects publicised by a number of dedicated sources including the Australian Citizen Science Association. Examples include:

  • The Fairwren Project. This project utilises the public to
    collect observations of fairywrens and their plumages across Australia.
  • School of Ants. This project runs nationally and employs the use of citizen scientists to understand the feeding habits of ants in vegetated and urban areas around Australia.
  • Virtual Reef Diver. This project allows citizen scientists to take photos or classify data on the great barrier reef from the comfort of their home, and help environmental managers better inform their decisions to help conserve these environments.

Many of these programmes help to contribute information to publicly accessible online databases such as the Atlas of Living Australia website, in which both the public and scientists can freely use information for scientific research or educational purposes.

Check out the huge list of other Australian citizen science projects here!

In South Australia, there are many local citizen science projects that you can join for free too. Examples include:

  • FrogWatch SA. This project allows citizens scientists to complete frog surveys by recording frog calls, sightings and habitat information using a smartphone application (FrogSpotter – Android & IOS) to help scientists identify frog species and their distribution.
Frog Expert Steven Walker from FrogWatch SA guiding citizen scientists through some wetlands to record frog calls using the FrogSpotter app.
  • Goanna Watch. This project utilises citizens scientists to log any sightings of specific goanna and monitor lizard species to track native populations within the Adelaide region.
  • Another similar programme is the MEGA Murray-Darling Microbats project that allows citizen scientists to photograph and log information on microbat sightings.
  • The Catepillar Conundrum project is also another initiative that uses citizen scientists to help scientists learn about caterpillars and their parasitoids in SA.
  • Finally, consider checking out some of our very own citizen science excursions in SA here too.

Check out other citizen science projects in South Australia here!

Lastly, come and join our ever growing community over at the Activating Australians for Citizen Science Facebook page, where you can stay up to date with other citizen science projects such as the seasonal Aussie Backyard Bird Count or the national Wild Pollinator Count, ask questions, and engage with other members to discuss all things citizen science.

So, get out there, find a project, learn something new, and perhaps mostly importantly – go and make a difference in the world!

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