Nav: Home

Global growth of ecological and environmental citizen science is fueled by new technology

April 04, 2017

Scientists at the UK-based Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and the Natural History Museum, London have revealed the diversity of ecological and environmental citizen science for the first time and showed that the changing face of citizen science around the world is being fuelled by advances in new technology.

The study, the first of its kind to quantitatively explore the diverse range of approaches to ecological and environmental research carried out by volunteers, shows that citizen science is on the rise due to the availability and innovative use of online databases, digital cameras and smartphones.

The researchers only found 20 ecological and environmental projects that had begun before 1970, but this had increased to more than 500 over 40 years later in 2014, with a consistent 10 percent increase in the number of projects every year during the 1990s and 2000s.

They showed that the diversity of projects that are available for people to participate in has increased over time, and that this seems to be driven in large part by advances in new technology.

Since 2010 more and more citizen science is taking place as part of 'mass participation' projects conducted using smartphones, whereas the projects that started back in the 1990s tended to involve structured monitoring - recording animals, plants or water quality at the same places time after time. These structured projects are still a major part of the citizen science landscape but new approaches making use of new technologies have added to the diversity.

Dr Michael Pocock, an Ecologist from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Wallingford, UK, who led the research, said, "Citizen science - the involvement of volunteers in real scientific research and monitoring - is becoming more and more popular. We have shown how this includes projects for expert volunteers to contribute their knowledge, for children to answer scientific questions, and for anyone to get involved in recording."

The study, published online by PLOS ONE, showed that the increase in the diversity of citizen science over time is because we are constantly developing new ways of doing citizen science which adds to, rather than replaces, previous approaches. This innovation is driven by factors such as new technology - from digital cameras, smartphones and tablets - and new methods of scientific analysis.

Of the 509 projects discovered, the majority (77 percent) were focused on biodiversity - such as bird or bee monitoring - rather than concerns with the abiotic environment, for example water quality or atmospheric pollution.

Co-author Professor Helen Roy, an Ecologist from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Wallingford, UK, said, "The way in which volunteers have been involved in science, particularly documenting their wildlife observations over the centuries, is inspiring - and we consequently have an amazing legacy on which to build. It is exciting to see the imaginative ways in which scientists and citizen scientists are working together."

Co-author Dr John Tweddle, Head of Angela Marmont Centre at the UK's Natural History Museum in London, UK, said, "The tremendous diversity of citizen science approaches means that it has never been easier to get involved in scientific studies of our wildlife and environment. At a time of pressing environmental concern, this gives real cause for optimism."

The researchers conclude that understanding the diversity of citizen science in ecology and the environment helps organisers of new citizen science projects to be better informed about the range of approaches that are available. This in turn, the report's authors say, will enable better citizen science to be developed for the benefit of both participants and science.
The study was funded by UK Environmental Observation Framework (UKEOF). For more information on UKEOF visit:

Dr Pocock has written a blog about why he helped develop a guide to Choosing and Using Citizen Science. You can read it here:

Other citizen science guides from CEH are available at:

Notes to editors

Contact details

For interview requests and images contact Wayne Coles, Media Relations Officer, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, UK, Mobile: +44 (0)7920 2955384, Email:

Lead author, Dr Michael Pocock, Ecologist, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, UK, Office: +44 (0)1491 692566 Email:

Co-author, Dr John Tweddle, Head of Angela Marmont Centre, Natural History Museum, UK, Office: +44 (0) 207 942 5120, Email:

Paper reference

Michael J.O. Pocock, John C. Tweddle, Joanna Savage, Lucy D.Robinson, Helen E. Roy, 2017, 'The diversity and evolution of ecological and environmental citizen science,' PLOS ONE, published online 3 April 2017.

The paper is available as an open access document via this URL:

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) is the UK's Centre of Excellence for integrated research in the land and freshwater ecosystems and their interaction with the atmosphere. CEH is part of the Natural Environment Research Council, employs more than 450 people at four major sites in England, Scotland and Wales, hosts over 150 PhD students, and has an overall budget of about £35m. CEH tackles complex environmental challenges to deliver practicable solutions so that future generations can benefit from a rich and healthy environment. You can follow the latest developments in CEH research via @CEHScienceNews on Twitter

The Natural History Museum welcomes more than five million visitors a year and is a world-leading science research centre. The Museum was named the Cultural Attraction of the Year at the London Lifestyle Awards 2016, voted by the public. Through its unique collection and unrivalled expertise it is tackling the biggest challenges facing the world today. It helps enable food security, eradicate disease and manage resource scarcity. It is studying the diversity of life and the delicate balance of ecosystems to ensure the survival of our planet.

Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Related Water Quality Articles:

Study quantifies effect of 'legacy phosphorus' in reduced water quality
For decades, phosphorous has accumulated in Wisconsin soils. Though farmers have taken steps to reduce the quantity of the agricultural nutrient applied to and running off their fields, a new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison reveals that a 'legacy' of abundant soil phosphorus in the Yahara watershed of Southern Wisconsin has a large, direct and long-lasting impact on water quality.
New standards for better water quality in Europe
The European Water Framework Directive (WFD) is due to be revised by 2019.
Investigating the impact of 'legacy sediments' on water quality
University of Delaware researcher Shreeram Inamdar has been awarded a $499,500 grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to determine if stream-bank legacy sediments are significant sources of nutrients to surface waters and how they may influence microbial processes and nutrient cycling in aquatic ecosystems.
Adaptive management of soil conservation is essential to improving water quality
The quality of our rivers and lakes could be placed under pressure from harmful levels of soluble phosphorus, despite well-intended measures to reduce soil erosion and better manage and conserve farmland for crop production, a new study shows.
Big data approach to water quality applied at shale drilling sites
A computer program is diving deep into water quality data from Pennsylvania, helping scientists detect potential environmental impacts of Marcellus Shale gas drilling.
UTA partners with Apache Corp. for baseline water quality study in Alpine High area
Chemists from the University of Texas at Arlington have partnered with Apache Corporation to conduct a baseline water quality study of groundwater and surface water in the newly discovered Alpine High resource play in West Texas.
Cleaner air may be driving water quality in Chesapeake Bay
A new study suggests that improvements in air quality over the Potomac watershed, including the Washington, D.C., metro area, may be responsible for recent progress on water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.
New water-quality data on impact of corn, soybeans on nitrate in Iowa streams
As Iowa farmers have planted more acres of corn to meet the demand driven by the corn-based ethanol industry, many models predicted that nitrate concentrations in Iowa streams would increase accordingly.
Illinois River water quality improvement linked to more efficient corn production
In a new University of Illinois study, nitrate concentrations and loads in the Illinois River from 1983 to 2014 were correlated with agricultural nitrogen use efficiency and nitrate discharged from Chicago's treated wastewater.
Harmful algal blooms and water quality
Harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur naturally, but their outbreaks are influenced by climate change and droughts, nutrient enrichment and manmade factors, such as contaminants from sewage and stormwater discharge, natural resource extraction or agricultural runoff, to name a few.

Related Water Quality Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Moving Forward
When the life you've built slips out of your grasp, you're often told it's best to move on. But is that true? Instead of forgetting the past, TED speakers describe how we can move forward with it. Guests include writers Nora McInerny and Suleika Jaouad, and human rights advocate Lindy Lou Isonhood.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...