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Citizen science in conservation biology : best practices in the geoweb era Parfitt, Ian

Abstract

Conservation biology emerged as an activist discipline in the 1980s in response to increasing evidence that Earth is undergoing a biodiversity crisis. Building on foundations of biological science and applied resource management methods, this new discipline called upon its practitioners to both undertake scientific research to improve understanding of all species and ecosystems, and to take social and political action to protect and enhance endangered biodiversity. In the current era of declining budgets for biodiversity research and management, volunteer citizen science is gaining recognition as an important strategy for expanding and extending the work of embattled professional conservation biologists. New technologies such as handheld computers, GPS, GIS, interactive map services, and the internet, and the wide-spread availability, adoption and adaptation of these technologies by the general public, have created an environment where citizens can be rapidly mobilized to gather, process, and communicate data in support of conservation biology’s twin goals. In this thesis I explore citizen science within conservation biology and within the concept of the GeoWeb. I trace the history of citizen science in biology since the late 1800s to the current day, to better understand the practice and its contribution to conservation science. I find that citizen science is often employed to undertake research at large spatial scales, and that often location is a key attribute of the data citizens gather; as a result, the infrastructure and methods of the GeoWeb are fundamental to many citizen science projects. In the spirit of conservation biology, I pair my research of citizen science with the assembly of a set of best practices for increasing the impact of the practice on the conservation agenda, and then evaluate twelve current citizen science projects currently underway in British Columbia against these practices. I conclude that citizen participation in biological science furthers both of conservation biology’s goals: it both increases our body of knowledge about biodiversity, and helps to develop an informed and empowered constituency for conservation action and ecologically sustainable stewardship.

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