The value of question-first citizen science in urban ecology and conservation

Kirsten M. Parris, Rochelle Steven, Blythe Vogel, Pia E. Lentini, Jasmin Hartel, Kylie Soanes

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Citizen-science projects focused on ecology and conservation have been growing in popularity in recent years, offering many opportunities for researchers and volunteers alike. Two principal approaches to citizen-science projects in ecology can be characterized as the data-first approach and the question-first approach. Here, we highlight the value of question-first citizen-science projects for providing insights into the ecology and management of urban wildlife, using case studies on (1) beneficial insects (pollinators, predators and parasitoids) and (2) possums and gliders in Australian cities and towns. The question-first approach has many benefits, offering a platform to engage volunteers with the scientific process and the broader context of an ecological or conservation problem, while also connecting them with their local environment. Identifying the questions to be addressed in a citizen-science project ahead of data collection allows for co-design and stronger collaboration with volunteers, community groups, local experts, and landscape managers. Question-first citizen science can also provide valuable ecological data that extend substantially beyond presence-only records, including presence-absence data collected via timed surveys and information on animal behavior and interspecific interactions. However, establishing and maintaining question-first citizen-science projects can be challenging, requiring the building and maintenance of many relationships and a multidisciplinary approach that goes well beyond the usual activities of an academic researcher. Well-designed, question-first citizen science has the capacity to achieve both scientific rigor and meaningful engagement with volunteer participants.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12917
JournalConservation Science and Practice
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


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