BioBlitz events have taken the world by storm! As with citizen science, the jury is still out on definitions, and consequently many variants have occurred under the BioBlitz banner. The workshop was designed to generate discussion around the recently developed standardised evaluation form (produced via ECSA and DITOS BioBlitz working groups). The workshop took place during the European Citizen Science Assn. conference (Geneva, June 3-5). The following blog summarises presentations and participant discussions.
Information about Bioblitz events have proliferated in recent years. ECSA/DITOS initiatives have developed a BioBlitz Policy Brief that highlights public engagement, the scientific process, as well as applications to environmental management and policy. The Brief also explores how Bioblitz methodology can be enhanced by increasing cross-boundary cooperation and exchanges. Event-based resources include the The Australian Guide to running a BioBlitz, with another produced by the British Natural History Museum. The Bristol Natural History Consortium has created a BioBlitz hub, bringing together a variety of materials. However, evaluation frameworks are few and far between, and outcomes are rarely researched (see an example here).
What defines a BioBlitz?
Many public engagement events have been described as a BioBlitz, but workshop participants quickly scoped out key features: creating link between science and the public; timing/length; creating an inventory of biodiversity; having both education and scientific outcomes. sharing a summary of outcomes e.g., via leaderboard and online. Active participation was highlighted: participants themselves learning species ID processes rather than experts IDing species for the public. Some events may also include science experimentation in addition to guided walks etc. One workshop members queried if the BioBlitz format was a suitable format for conducting repeatable biodiversity surveys, while another added the value of making new discoveries.
The European Citizen Science Assn. summarises a BioBlitz as:
an event in which members of the public and scientists meet in a delimited area and defined time period to record as many species as possible
It was interesting to note terms such as wildlife survey, challenge and tidepooling being used in the US in lieu of BioBlitz, or events focused on specific taxa e.g., a ‘ladybird BioBlitz’. For the Boston City Nature Challenge, data quests were organised so that returning participants could track specific species. Arguably, the lack of a common definition may risk diluting the event but keeping the concept broad means that BioBlitz variations can occur that suit local contexts and levels of resourcing.
Developing a BioBlitz evaluation framework
Simone Cutajar (Imperial College, London) tackled the question “Can you come up with a common evaluation framework across Europe for the City Nature Challenge?” The rationale was to make data accessible and comparable – but also create a flexible format to account for different event styles and contexts. A basic set of 15 – 17 questions were created centring on outcomes:
- Knowledge gain
- Behaviour change
- Increased mobile app use
- Increased public engagement (will participants become involved in more events?)
Key challenges included different platforms for used evaluations as well as differing meanings of terms across languages and cultures during translation. This extends to who participates: i.e. scientists, expert amateurs, professionals, expert volunteers, researchers, coordinators. Titles/roles need to reflect that knowledge existing on a continuum – rather than create a hierarchy.
City Nature Challenge
Lila Higgins (Natural History Museum of LA County) described Los Angeles as an urban biodiversity hotspot, and how collecting biodiversity data could assist with developing policy for conservation in city. The formal establishment of Citizen Science Day under Obama administration sparked the City Nature Challenge, helped by ongoing friendly rivalry between Los Angeles and San Francisco. See Lila’s excellent TED talk on urban biodiversity here.
Cities compete against each other for observations: in 2017, 16 different totalled 125,655 observations via the iNaturalist project and species observation platform. The following year, 68 cities took part around the globe (11 cities around Europe). Diverse platforms were used though 400k observations were recorded in first 4 days, totalling 18k spp. To keep the public and media engaged, some events used a split format with 4 days of biodiversity observations followed by 4 days of ID events.
Event evaluation only took place in the US with 241 participants with findings showing participants wanted to better understand biodiversity, use the opportunity to get outdoors and contribute to research. People were also asked how they found out about the event, and organiser were also surveyed to gather recommendations for running future events.
BioBlitz in Italy
Andrea Sforzi (Director Maremma Natural History Museum) presented research findings both on the public’s motivation for participating in BioBlitz events that recently took place in two Italian protected areas. Participants completed printed or online google forms which covered personal information (age, education, employment status) and explored their learning experiences and sense of discovery – how they felt part of the BioBlitz, whether they would continue to be involved in similar activities and which activities they carried out during the BioBlitz (e.g., listening and asking questions, photography, using iNaturalist/recording spp manually).
Discovery emerged as an important motivator while collecting scientific data was rated highly by regular park users and regular BioBlitz participants; other motivations included investigating territory, learning something new, walking and enjoying nature
Researchers were questioned on their motivations to take part and perceptions of participant learning. When asked to 5 words to describe their experience, top words included participation and engagement, more so than science. This may highlight a need to raise awareness of science participants around the wider scientific potential of BioBlitz events and to design events so that scientific objectives can be better acheived.