Later this month, I’m heading overseas on a Churchill Trust fellowship, to ‘design enduring methods that engage nature lovers to monitor wildlife population sizes and needs’.
But first, I’m meeting with Tasmanians experienced in running, or wanting to run, this type of work. I have a few questions for them, but four stand out. Why have past projects succeeded or failed? Could collaboration between groups with similar interests be useful? What are their future citizen science research aims? Any issues they’d like me to explore with overseas experts?
During my trip, I’ll visit centres of excellence in citizen science in the USA, Hungary and the UK (more on these in coming posts). I hope to refine designs to monitor three groups: a threatened burrowing crayfish, the terrestrial mammals, and our two eagles (also both threatened). I’m hoping that each of these three, very different, designs might also eventually be tweaked to apply to a range of additional species. Again, more details of these in future posts.
My focus is on designs that generate scientifically robust data, to enable assessment of the species’ threatened status (in terms of criteria such as the IUCN’s), and to gauge the success of any conservation efforts. I want to learn more about the latest analytical solutions to common challenges with citizen science (such as volunteers not always being able to commit consistently to repeat surveys). Of course the ability to obtain meaningful, trustworthy results is critical for effective conservation; but it’s my impression (soon to be tested) that the generation of such results will also help retain participants for the long term projects needed to monitor population trends.
In case you’re wondering, I’ve been involved in monitoring a range of species in the past – from butterflies to bats. Most notably, I headed the team to assess whether Devil Facial Tumour Disease was affecting Tasmanian devil numbers, resulting in a landmark scientific publication. In August this year I upskilled further by attending the University of Andrews’ Distance Sampling software courses – very stimulating, and a bonus opportunity to exchange ideas with course-mates exploring similar questions.
While my citizen science plans are independent of my State Government position, I hope to build on – and add further – collaborations to turn the designs into reality. Given my focus on designing ‘enduring’ surveys, I’m keen to set up programmes that have support in some form or other from multiple agencies.
If you have experience, or are interested in, helping effect citizen science research in Tasmania, please would you get in touch? It would be great to learn from you and exchange ideas. I’d particularly welcome answers to my four questions, either in a comment below or on clare.hawkins[at]utas.edu.au