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Community Science in Conservation

by Annia Quiroz of Central Arizona Conservation Alliance

What is public participation in scientific research (PPSR)? PPSR is more commonly known as community science aka citizen science. These are initiatives where the public is involved in one or more phases of scientific research from defining questions to using results. A few years ago organizations began recognizing the limitations of the word “citizen”. The word citizen in citizen science was originally intended to distinguish amateur data collectors from professional scientists, not to describe the citizenship status of the volunteers. No matter where a volunteer was born their contribution to science and conservation programs is valued. 

Not only this, but the term community science also means we must expand how we think about the process of community science. It involves local knowledge, collective action and empowerment. By creating an even more collaborative process, bringing in the community scientists to participate in the decision making, communities are drawing closer to better conservation and livelihood outcomes, that are in synergy with local ecosystem-based management trends.

One common question asked by participating volunteers is, “what are the impacts out work has and how is the data collected used”? This is a great question.

Community science can have many uses and impacts. Some examples are: 

  1. Development of plans (ie. safety, management, restoration)
  2. Community resiliency and preparedness
  3. Policy
  4. Floristic inventories and herbarium collections
  5. Further research and research questions
  6. Community scientists as ambassadors!

It needs to be said that this isn’t an all-inclusive list and one we are still learning about. Touching on number 6, community science is critically important as the need for community input in scientific processes and policy development are ever more clear. While the contribution of data for specific projects is very valuable to scientific research, we cannot understate the importance of the community scientists themselves. 

Not only do they gathering data and participate in the scientific process but, through this participation, their passion and experiences they become ambassadors and champions of the work. They play a critical role in sharing important messages of conservation, or whatever the project entails. 

There are many different ways to get involved in community science projects. For example, two initiatives the Central Arizona Conservation Alliance is helping lead:

  1. The Metro Phoenix EcoFlora project

The EcoFlora project is a community science project using iNaturalist to learn more about the biodiversity of Metro Phoenix. Urban ecosystems are understudied, and plants are especially overlooked. Every month you can also join a new EcoQuest; hide-and-seek games for urban biodiversity, seeking certain plants or plant interactions. Their results provide information for research, such as pollinator counts, invasive species mapping, or wildlife habitat.

  1. Desert Defenders  

Desert Defenders is a community science program focused on finding, mapping and removing invasive species at local parks, preserves and natural areas. Invasive species are one of the biggest threats to healthy ecosystems. The data collected through the tireless work of our Defenders is crucial for park staff and land managers to protect the desert parks we all love.

More community science links:

https://cazca.org/project/desert-defenders/

https://cazca.org/project/metro-phoenix-ecoflora/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1462901119300942

https://gsmit.org/why-we-are-changing-citizen-science-to-community-science/