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Title: The importance and effectiveness of volunteer-collected data in ecology and conservation
Author: Williams, Rachel L.
Awarding Body: University of Gloucestershire
Current Institution: University of Gloucestershire
Date of Award: 2012
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Volunteers have been collecting ecological data for centuries. However, volunteercollected data are frequently challenged because they lack the precision and rigour of scientific studies. This thesis evaluates the advantages of volunteer‐collected data and the importance of such data for the study of ecology and conservation, and considers methods to verify data to avoid or reduce inaccuracies. Different case studies aimed to answer questions relating to species’ ecology, habitat selection, and behaviour. Charismatic mammals were selected in order to increase volunteer participation (Water voles Arvicola terrestris; dormice Muscardinus avellanarius; North American otters Lontra canadensis; hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus). Simple, rapid data collection methods were used so that volunteers and citizen scientists could easily follow instructions. The findings show that simple methods such as scales and estimates can be an effective way of studying water vole habitat associations; however, inter‐observer variability was highly problematic when volunteers collected data based on subjective estimations. A volunteer‐collected long‐term dataset on dormouse nestbox occupancy provided excellent information on habitat selection despite some irregularities when the data were recorded. Untrained citizen scientists could not record activity budgets for captive otters despite simple instructions, whereas citizen scientists were able to record habitat variables within their gardens, but false absences were found to be an issue when they recorded hedgehog sightings. Overall, this thesis suggests that volunteer‐collected data can provide useful insights into various aspects of ecology, for example, for studying distributions and species‐habitat interactions. Encouraging volunteers to collect ecological data has additional benefits such as increasing the health and wellbeing of participants, and it also raises public awareness of conservation issues. Recommendations on how to increase participation rates while minimising sources of error and bias are given.
Supervisor: Goodenough, Anne ; Hart, Adam ; Chambers, Frank Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: GE Environmental Sciences ; QL Zoology