Citizen science and open science: Collaborative approaches to evaluating ecological dynamics in the Anthropocene
Ecological research has traditionally relied on data from surveys or experiments collected by small groups of scientists, students, and their research assistants or volunteers. These studies have provided many valuable contributions for ecology, and a detailed understanding of biological processes occurring within specific systems. In the Anthropocene, humans are having dramatic impacts on ecological systems, and there is a growing awareness that the results observed in a single study may not predict trends across multiple sites, taxonomic groups, or spatial scales. A critical challenge for evaluating ecological response to anthropogenic stressors is to obtain and analyze data across broad spatial and temporal scales. Through collaboration, we can leverage the strengths of individual studies with building larger networks for scientific observation and data sources. Two rapidly growing avenues for expanding scientific collaboration include open science and citizen science approaches. Open science includes practices such as maintaining an open lab notebook, making data freely available, and publishing scientific products in open access venues. Citizen science encourages members of the public to collect data, following the guidance of scientists that design the study and conduct broader syntheses and publications using the data.
Openly sharing data allows researchers to aggregate data from many sites to strongly test hypotheses or to explore general trends. By leveraging citizen participation, scientists can collect far more data than would be possible by a single research team or network. Both open and citizen science approaches emphasize increased collaboration and communication among scientists and with the public. Public access to and participation in scientific discovery helps non-scientists understand the scientific process and gain a greater appreciation for nature. By increasing the pace at which data can be collected, aggregated, or discovered, and by opening up discussion of scientific analysis in real time, these approaches have the potential to move science forward more rapidly. This presentation will provide an overview of the challenges and benefits to using citizen and open science approaches to evaluate ecological dynamics in the Anthropocene and describe an ongoing study using citizen-collected eBird observation data to evaluate migration variation for five North American hummingbird species from 2008-2014 (R2latitude 0.88-0.97; R2longitude 0.26-0.97). Including citizen and open datasets in research allows researchers to ask new questions that would not be possible given the limitations of single studies, time commitments, or grant funding, but also includes new methodological challenges.