Volunteers collect high quality data

Posted on June 1, 2016

Volunteer community groups are increasingly active in environmental monitoring, and often have the capacity to collect large amounts of data that can potentially complement or replace information gathered by management agencies. However, in some instances, scientists have expressed reservations about the reliability of community-generated data. New Zealand researchers compared the level of agreement between stream condition data collected by professionals (Auckland Council staff) and by volunteer members of a local river care group. The comparison focused on 21 areas that were sampled by both organizations within three months of one another in 2003-2013. Both groups used macroinvertebrate diversity as an indicator of stream health, but they used different collecting gear and sampled at different sites within a given area. The professionals identified stream animals to a high level of taxonomic resolution, while the volunteers used a simplified identification system and a condition index based on pollution tolerance scores for the various taxa. In spite of these differences in approach, there were highly significant positive correlations between the volunteer index and both of the indices used by the professionals (Macroinvertebrate Community Index and % Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Trichopera richness). The strong concordance between the two sets of results gave confidence that volunteer data can be used to support professional stream monitoring programmes. A separate study found that when given no training and only scientific identification tools, volunteers could not accurately identify stream invertebrates, so it seems likely that concerns about the reliability of community-generated data are largely related to the degree of training and resourcing that volunteers receive. In the present study, volunteers used a simplified protocol, were provided with picture identification guides, and were given on-site training.

Reference: Moffett, E.R. & Neale, M.W. 2015. Volunteer and professional macroinvertebrate monitoring provide concordant assessments of stream health New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 49(3), 366–375. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00288330.2015.1018913