Simplified and still meaningful: assessing butterfly habitat quality in grasslands with data collected by pupils
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Public participation in scientific research, now commonly referred to as citizen science, is increasingly promoted as a possibility to overcome the large-scale data limitations related to biodiversity and conservation research. Furthermore, public data-collection projects can stimulate public engagement and provide transformative learning situations. However, biodiversity monitoring depends on sound data collection and warranted data quality. Therefore, we investigated if and how trained and supervised pupils are able to systematically collect data about the occurrence of diurnal butterflies, and how this data could contribute to a permanent butterfly monitoring system. We developed a specific assessment scheme suitable for laypeople and applied it at 35 sampling sites in Tyrol, Austria. Data quality and its explanatory power to predict butterfly habitat quality was investigated comparing data collected by pupils with independent assessments of professional butterfly experts. Despite substantial identification uncertainties for some species or species groups, the data collected by pupils was successfully used to predict the general habitat quality for butterflies using a linear regression model (r² = 0.73, p <0.001). Applying the proposed method in a citizen science context with laypeople could support both the long term monitoring of butterfly habitat quality, as well as the efficient selection of sites for professional in-depth assessments.
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