One major problem with crowd-sourcing information for use in research is accounting for the different methods and skill-sets of individual data collectors. Oregon 2020 citizen scientists and others who use sites such as eBird represent a huge range of experience, from the most novice of birders to experts who are in the field every day. An individual with little experience may note just a few birds by sight, while the expert recognizes single notes of birdsong heard from far away. So how do we accurately measure bird occurrence patterns and populations using data from these varied sources?
A recent study explored this variation in observers and described a new method to quantify and explore differences in the rates at which observers find and identify species by using species accumulation curves (SAC). SACs are traditionally used in ecology to estimate species diversity at specific locations based on incomplete surveys. The same process was used to develop an index specific to individual observers in a given region, to quantify the increase in the number of species detected with increasing search effort.
The study also shows how birders can increase their skills with practice and participation in eBird. Frequent birding leads to faster detection of species in a given area and increases the individual’s ability to quickly locate species that are secretive, hard-to-identify, or most often detected by voice. This just goes to show us that we should all get out there and bird!
Read the full article and paper here: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/plos2015/