Citizen science tools available for ecological research in South Africa

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 15
  • SDG 4
  • Abstract:

    Citizen science is a term for scientific research conducted by non-scientists. Ordinary citizens can participate in research from their home computer, in their own gardens, or in the great outdoors – without any expertise in the field. Many citizen science projects and opportunities exist in South Africa – ranging from monitoring bird migrations to identifying and mapping distributions of fungi. In this article, three citizen science tools available to researchers in South Africa are discussed and three interesting plant-focused research projects which currently utilise these tools are introduced. Incorporating citizen science tools into ecological research provides many benefits. The use of citizen science tools increases sampling distributions, both temporally and spatially, and engagement of local citizens in research provides ‘many scientific eyes’, which is especially useful for geographical studies, such as monitoring invasive species or mapping populations of rare species over large spatial scales. Not only does the research benefit from multiple volunteer observers, but also from greater access to private lands. Thus, incorporating citizen science tools ultimately increases the feasibility of many research projects through the culmination of these benefits. Each of the tools discussed below may already be in use by large numbers of citizens who are actively contributing to projects which will be available for future research endeavours. However, citizen science is recognised as an inherent avenue for outreach, and should only be pursued through projects for which there is a commitment and interest in improving scientific literacy by engaging a greater population. Citizen science is not only recognised as a tool for research, but also as a tool for scientific education. Citizen science projects provide ample outside-of-the-classroom learning opportunities for participants. They also provide educational benefits such as skills for accurate data collection, critical thinking and scientifically informed decision-making – which ultimately increases scientific capacity, better informs decisions and improves social capital in South Africa.