Biodiversity Science ›› 2013, Vol. 21 ›› Issue (6): 738-749.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1003.2013.12113

• Orginal Article • Previous Article     Next Article

Citizen science: integrating scientific research, ecological conservation and public participation

Jian Zhang1, *(), Shengbin Chen2, Bin Chen3, Yanjun Du3, Xiaolei Huang4, Xubin Pan5, Qiang Zhang6   

  1. 1 Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada T6G 2H1
    2 Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences, Ministry of Environmental Protection, Nanjing 210042
    3 State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093
    4 Key Laboratory of Zoological Systematics and Evolution, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101
    5 Institute of Plant Quarantine, Chinese Academy of Inspection and Quarantine, Beijing 100029
    6 Guangdong Entomological Institute, Guangzhou 510260
  • Received:2013-05-09 Accepted:2013-09-03 Online:2013-12-02
  • Zhang Jian

Citizen science, also known as “public participation in scientific research”, is defined as scientific activities in which non-professional scientists participate as volunteers in data collection, analysis and dissemination within a scientific project. With the advent of the information age, citizen science projects, especially in ecological conservation and environmental monitoring, are rapidly expanding our knowledge of the world around us, and contributing to management and policy decisions. Citizen science projects can be classified into five types of models: contractual, contributory, collaborative, co-created and collegial projects. In China, public participation in science related activities has had a long history, but current contributions in citizen science are limited because of relatively low public participation, and the weaknesses in data quality control, data management and analysis. Recently, citizen science has been applied to bird watching and plant monitoring, with some positive and negative experiences. To better increase citizen science activities and enhance such contributions to academic research, improvements are urgently required in financial support, the development of project platforms, the application of new technology, and international collaboration. We believe that the enhancement of citizen science will greatly promote the development of ecological conservation, environmental monitoring and related research fields. To help with this we have established a platform for China citizen science projects ( to promote communication and cooperation among scientists, governments, other organizations and the public.

Key words: citizen science, environmental conservation, conservation biology, biodiversity, environmental monitoring, bird watching, plant monitoring

Fig. 1

The number of peer-reviewed publications with the key word “citizen science” as determined in a search of the Web of Science (accessed on April 29, 2013)"

Table 1

Models for developing a citizen science project (Bonney et al., 2009a; Shirk et al., 2012)"

Steps in scientific process
选择或定义研究问题 Choose or define question(s) for study
收集信息和资源 Gather information and resources (√)
提出假说或解释 Develop explanations (hypotheses)
设计数据收集方法 Design data collection methodologies (√)
收集样品、记录数据 Collect samples and/or record data
分析样品 Analyze samples
分析数据 Analyze data (√)
解释数据、得出结论 Interpret data and draw conclusions (√) (√)
Disseminate conclusions/translate results into action
(√) (√) (√)
Discuss results and ask new questions

Table 2

A selection of projects and websites that provide cyberinfrastructure, tools, and information for project developers and participants"

网站 Websites 提供的资源 Resources
Citizen Science Central: 项目开发、文献数据库、讨论组等相关的工具
Toolkit for project development, tips and tools, reference database, conference proceedings, searchable project list, discussion forum, news feed, professional network
SciStarter: 项目搜索工具、项目添加工具等
Project finder and add project tools, editor’s picks, member and site blogs
中国自然标本馆: 生物多样性基础数据支持, 公众科学项目数据存储、物种鉴定、编目和分类管理、团队协作等功能支持
Tools for biodiversity data collection, species identification, and group cooperation 制作数据输入表格的工具
Tools for creating customized data-entry forms so that volunteers can submit data
Data Observation Network for Earth: 数据管理、数据标准化、数据分析和可视化的工具
Tools on data management and data standards that will enable the integration of data from diverse studies and taxa, data analysis and visualization tools
The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science: 工具、方法、会议信息 Tools and methods, information on conferences
iSpot: 各种动植物类群监测网络平台 Species identification and monitoring

Fig. 2

The distribution of monitoring sites in 23 selected citizen science projects in USA (After Wiggins et al., 2013. Used by permission of Dr. Andrea Wiggins). Different colors of dots stand for different citizen science projects."

Table 3

The comparison among traditional science, verified citizen science, and direct citizen science (Gardiner et al., 2012)"

Type of science
Data quality
Information dissemination
Traditional science
Scientists conduct all aspects of the research process
高 High 高 High 慢 Slow

Verified citizen science

Scientists and citizens conduct the research process together

中等 Medium

中等 Medium

中等 Medium

Direct citizen science

Citizens conduct all aspects of the research process

低 Low

低 Low

快 Fast

Table 4

The comparison among the costs of traditional science, direct citizen science, or verified citizen science: collecting one lady beetle trap sample as an example (all currency in US$) (Gardiner et al., 2012)"

Type of costs
费用(美元) Costs (US$)
Traditional science
Verified citizen science
Direct citizen science
实验材料费用 Traps and fence cost 4.17 4.17 4.17
旅行费用 Travel to field site 85.46 0.00 0.00
参与者收集捕捉器的工资 Student payment for collecting trap samples 34.00 0.00 0.00
参与者收集数据的工资 Student payment for collecting data 0.00 4.25 0.00
科学家帮助参与者培训的工资 Researcher investment to train students 2.99 2.99 0.00
调查者邮寄数据给科学家的费用 Mailing cost 0.00 1.61 0.00
举行培训班的花费 Hosting volunteer training workshops 0.00 9.89 9.89
网站开发和维护 Website development and maintenance 0.00 17.38 17.38
每个捕捉器的总花费 Total cost per trap 126.62 40.29 31.44

Fig. 3

The application of new techniques in citizen science projects. (a) iBats smartphone app (, which allows a smartphone to be directly connected to the ultrasonic detector and the geo-referenced sound files can then be automatically uploaded onto the ibats website; (b) BudBurst smartphone App (, which uses a smartphone to monitor plants as the season changes."

Fig. 4

Summary of China Birding Records between 2002 and 2012: the trends of recent ten years on (A) the number of observers; (B) the number of birding records; (C) the number of bird species; and (D) the number of observed sites (Data source: birdtalker/report/statistics.asp)."

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