Contributions to conservation outcomes by natural history museum-led citizen science: Examining evidence and next steps

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Biological Conservation, ISSN: 0006-3207, Vol: 208, Page: 87-97

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Heidi L. Ballard; Lucy D. Robinson; Alison N. Young; Gregory B. Pauly; Lila M. Higgins; Rebecca F. Johnson; John C. Tweddle
Elsevier BV
Agricultural and Biological Sciences; Environmental Science
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article description
Through their unique combination of specimen collections, scientific and public education expertise, and wide audience reach and trust, natural history museums (NHMs) are obvious settings for bridging conservation science and education through citizen science. Building on over 100 years of amateur naturalist contributions to biodiversity science, a wide range of NHM-based citizen science programs have emerged recently. Yet no comparative studies of the conservation outcomes of this work exist. Here we ask, what is the evidence that NHM citizen science contributes to conservation, what kinds of programs and strategies do so, and how could this approach be better realized for conservation goals? We analyzed 44 citizen science programs across three museums (one U.K., two U.S.) to assess whether and how they contribute to conservation-relevant outcomes. We found evidence that they support conservation both directly, through site and species management, and indirectly through research, education and policy impacts. This study has implications for understanding the role NHMs can play in maximizing the socio-ecological impacts of citizen science, including bringing citizen science to new audiences, mobilizing volunteers to collect and analyze data to study species invasions and impacts of global changes, and conducting locally-relevant research in urban systems. NHM citizen science can provide multiple entry-points and levels of engagement for participants in science and access to new means of studying biodiversity, both in the field and virtually. From our findings we recommend collaboration among the research and education staff within NHMs and other similar conservation organizations, as well as partnerships with external organizations to successfully contribute to conservation outcomes.