In a recent issue of Biological Conservation, researchers Joshua J. Horns, Frederick R. Adler, and Çağan H. Şekercioğlu describe a novel approach for using eBird data in bird conservation, in an article entitled Using opportunistic citizen science data to estimate avian population trends.
This study examines if the extensive records gathered by hobby birdwatchers can be used to determine changing trends in bird abundance. To investigate this question, the researchers compared trends in changing abundance over time calculated from two types of data: formal bird census data, which has long been considered the gold standard for determining population trends, and checklists of birds that have been gathered and submitted to eBird by birdwatchers.
eBird, a large citizen science database organized and maintained by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, currently contains over 26 million checklists of birds submitted by over 330,000 users. This study finds that trends produced by eBird data are almost identical to the trends produced by the bird census data, in terms of which bird species are increasing and decreasing, and the rates of population change.
The researchers also conclude that estimating changes over time from eBird data is best suited for widespread species, and improves with greater numbers of checklists. This validated eBird approach could be particularly valuable in tropical countries that lack formal bird census programs, where checklist submissions are increasing rapidly.
This study is a dramatic example of how well-designed, well-funded, and creatively analyzed citizen science programs can contribute to the science of conservation biology!