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Citizen Science

February 26, 2013

Butterfly in France. (c) Gaetan Lee, 2006, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Citizen Science programs have been around for a while (Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count has been going on for 113 years!), but more recently conservationists have been evaluating not only how the collected data might be valuable, but also if participating in these events helps to promote pro-conservation attitudes, values, and behaviors. A recent study looked at participants of the French Garden Butterflies Watch, which is run by the French Museum of Natural History and Noé-Conservation. The authors asked: “What influence do biodiversity observations fostered by citizen-science programs have on development of knowledge or beliefs about biodiversity?”

The authors found three major outcomes of participation: 1) “Increased attentiveness to and knowledge of butterflies;” 2) “Increased awareness of the ecological functioning of the immediate environment;”and 3) “Discovering possibilities for situating oneself in relation to this environment.”

Simply the act of observing the butterflies on a regular basis seemed to prompt an interest and (in some cases) a respect for nature that had been lacking before. This seemed to be a self-perpetuating cycle — people would start watching them, learn more about them, and so want to watch them more often, learn yet more about them, and so on. Learning about the butterflies also made them more aware of their ecosystem as a whole, as well as evolutionary systems (this was particularly true when watching butterflies’ life cycles and their interactions with plants and other aspects of their ecosystem).

The program does seem to have a direct positive impact on the environment, because most of the respondents also changed their gardening habits in some way to increase the attractiveness of their garden to butterflies (for example, by growing plants that butterflies like). In some cases, participants also discussed environmentally-friendly gardening practices with their social network, in an effort to get more people to use fewer insecticides, etc., to boost butterfly diversity and populations.

But perhaps more importantly, people developed a relationship with the nature they could find right outside of their door. Participants seemed to gain self-satisfaction by acquiring the skills and knowledge to identify the butterflies and (in some cases) they also took pride that their children were able to identify butterflies as well.

Some citizen-science programs focus on a particular place or time, but one of the interesting things about this butterfly program is that participants get to choose the time, and the place is easily accessible — their own garden! The authors note that this seems to ground butterfly observation in daily life, and, as a result, observing nature becomes a habit. That’s good for everyone.

Cosquer, A., R. Raymond, and A. -C. Prevot-Juilliard. 2012. Observations of everyday biodiversity: A new perspective for conservation? Ecology and Society 17(4): 2

The full article can be found at:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2013 10:49 pm

    I’m so glad to see this confirmed. Although I develop my own bond through photography, it’s through repeated forays of the citizen science ilk that I’ve gained my true appreciation for precisely those elements — in my immediate ecosystem. Wonderful post, thank you.


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