A few weeks ago, a study in PLoS Biology caught my eye. It found that the general public could help to prevent species of birds from becoming extinct by recording sightings of birds online, including common species.
When judging the level of risk a bird species is at, scientists compare modern data to historical accounts on where the birds have been found. If there is a dramatic decrease in sightings of a bird species, then it is considered for a protected status. This study found that “far less data is currently being collected on common species than in the past.”
According to Imperial College London: “Data from websites where members of the public record bird sightings accounted for less than one percent of the data the researchers collected, but the team hope that the internet will enable citizen scientists to make a big impact on future biodiversity research.”
I agree. I hope the internet will enable “citizen scientists” to make a big impact on future biodiversity research and I am a little surprised that it hasn’t already.
Here at Speed, I like to think we are quite environmentally conscious. One of our MDs is a bicycle commuter and the other is striving towards sustainability with his farmhouse in rural Northumberland. In the past I have worked with environment groups and am even listed as a contributor to a breeding bird atlas. We are also all online, social and obviously into our tech. What’s stopping people like us from becoming “citizen scientists” and contributing to this much needed research on common bird species? It isn’t like there aren’t any birds of interest in urban London.
With the rise of social networking and mobile technology, there is so much potential for a cool solution to this data crisis.
An iPhone app combining Foursquare with a bird guide is a solution that first comes to mind. Combining location-based functionality, a guide for identifications, a social aspect to share sightings on Facebook and even competitive aspects, with badges or rewards, would do the trick. I want to be Mayor Twitcher of Leicester Square!
The data could be collected and made open and available to research groups, and hopefully improve on the less that one percent of bird sightings that currently come from members of the public.
I thought for sure that a solution like this would exist already, but I have been searching in the App Store and online with no luck.
I think it is definitely something that a charity like the RSPB or the Leverhulme Trust, the group who funded the research, should look into putting some budget towards.
Or, perhaps there could be a grassroots solution. If you’re a bird-loving iPhone app developer or a publisher who owns the rights to a birding guide, please get in touch with a comment, tweet or email. Maybe we could link up and work on something together.
If such an app already exist, do let me know. I’d love for an easy to get busy adding my bird sightings to important research.
Getting some great feedback. Thanks! I thought I’d collect and share it here:
A couple folks have said that similar things to what I’ve described do exist. There is Project NOAH for the iPad and BirdsEye, which sounds great but is North American only. Both have lots of potential, if only they were geographically and technologically accessible! Maybe an open source program that collects data on a shared website might be the answer. That way people can submit data through a variety of apps and websites.
Some people think that birders aren’t interested in gadgets, but I don’t that prevents this from being a good idea. Birders are already submitting data. With a fun game-like app, non-birders and newbies can start adding the much needed sightings of common birds, improving the amount of data.
Anyway, someone has said that their birding group are using mobile email from BlackBerrys as they are out in the field to report sightings. So clearly there is potential for birders using an app.
Tom from the RSPB said:
iPhone applications are something we have been thinking about for a while. It is clearly a great idea which has evidently gained public interest, but this is not something which the RSPB currently endorse due to the complex array of copyright issues involved getting such a product off the ground. but a great idea!
Thanks so much all the ideas and feedback. Please keep it coming!
Got some great feedback from the academic and tech communities. This is getting really exciting! Pieces are coming togther and should have more details to share soon.
Photo by Flickr user cowfish, licensed under CC BY 2.0.