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Citizen science: from detecting pollution to evaluating ecological restoration

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The proliferation of citizen science water quality monitoring networks suggests there is potential for developing an equivalent river Restoration Assessment Initiative (RAI). This is currently lacking, especially at larger (e.g., national and international) scales. As such, the RAI would provide a much‐needed new tool for stakeholders to evaluate and compare the efficacy of their restoration efforts. We propose a standardized protocol to quantify biotic responses (e.g., changes to the macroinvertebrate community) to restoration efforts, which would facilitate a large‐scale, open‐access database revealing success or failure of commonly used restoration techniques. By combining biotic and abiotic (e.g., habitat and water quality) assessments, a feature typically lacking from restoration monitoring schemes and cited as a major constraint limiting development of the field, integrative approaches (e.g., meta‐analyses and coordinated field experiments) could help untangle their respective effects on restoration outcomes. Water quality initiatives (e.g., the Riverfly Monitoring Initiative) have paved the way for volunteer‐driven pollution monitoring, and provide models designed for sustaining long‐lasting volunteer participation in stream monitoring. These could be developed for the RAI to better detect restoration signals (e.g., adopt a before‐after‐control‐impact (BACI) approach) while continuing to address the key practical challenges associated with implementing citizen science initiatives (e.g., volunteer skills and data quality assurance). Once established, the resultant infrastructure would facilitate expansion to an international scale, increasing the statistical power of the combined database enormously and allowing the addition of novel measures (e.g., ecosystem process rates) for assessing restoration. Clearly citizen scientists need a role in restoration assessment, especially as they are becoming increasingly important drivers of practices on the ground. Developing a coordinated citizen science RAI to ensure data are standardized and disseminated effectively will advance restoration on a more global scale, and also provides a timely solution to keep society and science connected. WIREs Water 2016, 3:287–300. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1138

This article is categorized under:

  • Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness
  • Human Water > Water Governance
  • Science of Water > Water Quality
The per annum number of peer reviewed papers concerning citizen science from 2000 to 2015. ‘Citizen science’ was searched within the ‘Environmental Sciences, Ecology’ subsection in Web of Knowledge (http://apps.webofknowledge.com/). Date of search 22/12/15.
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Chlorpyrifos spill detected by citizen scientists on the R. Kennet near Marlborough UK. Top: Routine RMI volunteer data collected by ARK show the detection of a chlorpyrifos pollution event on the R. Kennet. Invertebrate scores before (up to the black arrow) and after the spill at unaffected upstream (blue) and affected downstream (red) sites, based on the sum abundance of target taxa. The black line represents an Environment Agency pre‐set ‘trigger level’ for substantial ecological perturbation that when breached stimulates a site visit and investigation. Bottom: abundance of key taxa in relation to scores from an upstream control and downstream impact site respectively illustrating the drop in taxa on July.
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Data flow toward more effective restoration for the proposed RAI. Starting at the top of the figure, . Volunteer Monitoring: teams are represented as circles (a–g) and monitor their local restoration projects; 2. Data Management: data are uploaded by the volunteers online, where they are automatically calculated into diversity metrics and passes through quality control filters, where flagged data are reported back to volunteers (red arrow), before being validated by the regional coordinator who loads them on to the main database, or if there are irregularities, contacts the volunteers (red arrow); 3. Analysis: data are freely available to researchers and actively analyzed by the initiative coordinators; 4. Objectives: Analyses will inform the five main and often‐interlinked objectives of the initiative; 5. This would then feed back into future restoration projects, resulting in more effective river restoration.
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Science of Water > Water Quality
Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness
Human Water > Water Governance

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