Worldwide, decision-makers and nongovernment organizations are increasing their use of citizen volunteers to enhance their ability to monitor and manage natural resources, track species at risk, and conserve protected areas. We reviewed the last 10 years of relevant citizen science literature for areas of consensus, divergence, and knowledge gaps. Different community-based monitoring (CBM) activities and governance structures were examined and contrasted. Literature was examined for evidence of common benefits, challenges, and recommendations for successful citizen science. Two major gaps were identified: (1) a need to compare and contrast the success (and the situations that induce success) of CBM programs which present sound evidence of citizen scientists influencing positive environmental changes in the local ecosystems they monitor and (2) more case studies showing use of CBM data by decision-makers or the barriers to linkages and how these might be overcome. If new research focuses on these gaps, and on the differences of opinions that exist, we will have a much better understanding of the social, economic, and ecological benefits of citizen science.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Au, J., Bagchi, B., Chen, B., Martinez, R., Dudley, S. A., & Sorger, G. J. (2000). Methodology for public monitoring of total coliforms, Escheri coli and toxicity in waterways by Canadian high school students. Journal of Environmental Management, 58, 213–230.
Audubon (2008). The 109th Christmas bird count. Retrieved from: http://www.audubon.org/Bird/cbc/ on September 10th, 2008.
Bibby, C. J. (2003). Fifty years of bird study: Capsule field ornithology is alive and well, and in the future can contribute much more in Britain and elsewhere. Bird Study, 50, 194–210.
Bradshaw, B. (2003). Questioning the credibility and capacity of community-based resource management. The Canadian Geographer, 47, 137–150.
Bucket Brigade (2006). Bucket brigade introduction. Retrieved from: http://www.gcmonitor.org/article.php?list=type&type=9 on September 15th, 2008
Cannon, A. R., Chamberlain, D. E., Toms, M. P., Hatchwell, B. J., & Gaston, K. J. (2005). Trends in the use of private gardens by wild birds in Great Britain 1995–2002. Journal of Applied Ecology, 42, 659–671.
Carr, A. J. L. (2004). Why do we all need community science. Society and Natural Resources, 17, 841–849.
Carolan, M. S. (2006). Science, expertise and the democratization of the decision-making process. Society and Natural Resources, 19, 661–668.
Chilvers, J. (2008). Deliberating competence: Theoretical and practitioner perspectives on effective participatory appraisal practice. Science Technology Human Values, 33, 421–451.
Cline, S. A., & Collins, A. R. (2003). Watershed associations in West Virginia: Their impact on environmental protection. Journal of Environmental Management, 67, 373–383.
Conrad, C. (2006). Towards meaningful community-based ecological monitoring in Nova Scotia: Where we are versus where we would like to be. Environments, 34, 25–36.
Conrad, C., & Daoust, T. (2008). Community-based monitoring frameworks: Increasing the effectiveness of environmental stewardship. Environmental Management, 41, 356–358.
Contador, J. F. L. (2005). Adaptive management, monitoring, and the ecological sustainability of a thermal-polluted water system: A case in SW Spain. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 104, 19–35.
Cooper, C. B., Hochachka, W., Butcher, G., & Dhondt, A. (2005). Egg viability as a constraint on seasonal and latitudinal trends in clutch size. Ecology, 86, 2018–2031.
Cooper, C. B., Dickinson, J., Phillips, T., & Bonney, R. (2007). Citizen science as a tool for conservation in residential ecosystems. Ecology and Society, 12, 11–21.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology (2008). Citizen Science. Retrieved from: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/LabPrograms/CitSci/ on September 10th, 2008.
Datta, A., Anand, M. O., & Naniwadekar, R. (2008). Empty forests: Large carnivore and prey abundance in Namdapha National Park, north-east India. Biological Conservation, 141, 1429–1435.
de Solla, S. R., Shirose, L. J., Fernie, K. J., Barrett, G. C., Brousseau, C. S., & Bishop, C. A. (2005). Effect of sampling effort and species detectability on volunteer based anuran monitoring programs. Biological Conservation, 121, 585–594.
Easa, P. S., Surendranathan Asari, P. K., & Chand Basha, S. (1997). Status and distribution of the endangered lion-tailed macaque Macaca silenus in Kerala, India. Biological Conservation, 80, 33–37.
Ely, E. (2008a). Getting volunteer data into science journals. The Volunteer Monitor, 19, 8–11.
Ely, E. (2008b). Volunteer monitoring and the democratization of science. The Volunteer Monitor, 19, 1–5.
Evans, C., Abrams, E., Reltsrna, R., Roux, K., Salmonsen, L., & Marra, P. P. (2005). The Neighborhood Nestwatch Program: Participant outcomes of a citizen-science ecological research project. Conservation Biology, 19, 589–594.
Florida Lakewatch (2008). Florida LAKEWATCH: Florida’s volunteer water quality monitoring program, Retrieved from: http://lakewatch.ifas.ufl.edu/ on September 15th, 2008.
Fore, L. S., Paulsen, K., & O’Laughlin, K. (2001). Assessing the performance of volunteers in monitoring streams. Freshwater Biology, 46, 109–123.
Foster-Smith, J., & Evans, S. M. (2003). The value of marine ecological data collected by volunteers. Biological Conservation, 113, 199–213.
Gadgil, M. (2006). Science and the right to information. Economic and Political Weekly, 13, 1895–1902.
Global Community Monitor. (2006). Retrieved from www.gcmonitor.org on September 15th, 2008.
Gouveia, C., Fonseca, A., Camara, A., & Ferrira, F. (2004). Promoting the use of environmental data collected by concerned citizens through information and communication technologies. Journal of Environmental Management, 71, 135–154.
Gregory, R. D., van Strein, A., Vorisek, P., Gmelig Meyling, A. W., Noble, D. G., Foppen, R. P. B., et al. (2005). Developing indicators for European birds. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 360, 269–288.
Griffin, C. B. (1999). Watershed councils: An emerging form of public participation in natural resources management. Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 35, 505–518.
Hochachka, W. M., & Dhondt, A. A. (2000). Density-dependent decline of host abundance resulting from a new infectious disease. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 97, 5303–5306.
Hochachka, W. M., Wells, J. V., Rosenberg, K. V., Tassaglia-Hymes, D. L., & Dhondt, A. A. (1999). Irruptive migration of common redpolls. Condor, 101, 195–204.
James, M. C., Sherrill-Mix, S. A., Martin, K., & Myers, R. A. (2006). Canadian waters provide critical foraging habitat for leatherback sea turtles. Biological Conservation, 133, 347–357.
Jones, F. C., Baird, D., Bowman, M., Cameron, G., Craig, B., Cutler, B., et al. (2006). Performance of Ontario’s Benthos Biomonitoring Network: Impacts on participants’ social capital, environmental action and problem-solving ability. Environments, 34, 37–53.
Karney, R. (2009). Poor water quality? Not in my backyard! The effectiveness of neighbourhood pond associations in the protections and improvement of shellfish growing waters on Martha’s Vineyard. Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, Inc. Accessed from www.mvshellfishgroup.org/article.php?id=46 on June 26, 2009.
Keough, H. L., & Blahna, D. J. (2006). Achieving integrative, collaborative ecosystem management. Conservation Biology, 20, 1373–1382.
Kerr, M., Ely, E., Lee, V., & Mayio, A. (1994). A profile of volunteer environmental monitoring: National survey results. Lake and Reservoir Management, 9, 1–4.
Kershaw, M., & Cranswick, P. A. (2003). Numbers of wintering waterbirds in Great Britain, 1994/1995–1998/1999: I. Wildfowl and selected waterbirds. Biological Conservation, 111, 91–104.
Kruger, L. E., & Shannon, M. A. (2000). Getting to know ourselves and our places through participation in civic social assessment. Society and Natural Resources, 13, 461–478.
Lakshminarayanan, S. (2007). Using citizens to do science versus citizens as scientists. Ecology and Society, 12, Response 2, 1.
Lawrence, A. (2005). “Reluctant citizens? The disjuncture between participatory biological monitoring and environmental governance.” Paper presented at the International Sociology Association Conference “Environment, knowledge and democracy” Marseilles, France, p. 6, 7 July 2005.
Lawrence, A. (2006). No personal motive? Volunteers, biodiversity, and the false dichotomies of participation. Ethics, Place and Environment, 9(3), 279–298.
Lawrence, R. L., & Deagan, D. A. (2001). Choosing public participation methods for natural resources: A context-specific guide. Society and Natural Resources, 14, 857–872.
Lawrence, A., & Turnhout, E. (2005). “Personal meaning in the public space: The bureaucratization of biodiversity data in the UK and the Netherlands.” Paper presented at the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society, August 31, 2005.
Legg, C. J., & Nagy, L. (2006). Why most conservation monitoring is, but need not be, a waste of time. Journal of Environmental Management, 78, 194–199.
Lynam, T., Jong, W., Sheil, D., Kusumanto, T., & Evans, K. (2007). A review of tools for incorporating community knowledge, preferences and values into decision making in natural resources management. Ecology and Society, 12, 5–18.
Milne, R., Rosolen, S., Whitelaw, G., & Bennett, L. (2006). Multi-party monitoring in Ontario: Challenges and emerging solutions. Environments, 34, 11–23.
Mullen, M. W., & Allison, B. E. (1999). Stakeholder involvement and social capital: Keys to watershed management success in Alabama. Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 35, 655–662.
Nagendra, H., Karmacharya, M., & Karna, B. (2005). Evaluating forest management in Nepal: Views across space and time. Ecology and Society, 10, 24–40.
Nali, C., & Lorenzini, G. (2007). Air quality survey carried out by schoolchildren: An innovative tool for urban planning. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 131, 201–210.
Newman, C., Buesching, C. D., & MacDonald, D. W. (2003). Validating mammal monitoring methods and assessing the performance of volunteers in wildlife conservation- “Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” Biological Conservation, 113, 189–197.
Oberhauser, K. S., & Solensky, M. J. (2004). The Monarch butterfly: Biology and conservation. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Pattengill-Semmens, C. V., & Semmens, B. X. (2003). Conservation and management applications of the reef volunteer fish monitoring program. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 81, 43–50.
Pollock, R. M., Whitelaw, G. S., & Atkinson, D. K. (2003). Linking community based ecosystem monitoring to local decision making and policy development on sustainability: Voluntary Sector Initiative (VSI) Project: Final Report. Canadian Nature Federation: Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network Coordinating Office, Environment Canada. Accessed on September 15th, 2008: The Canadian Community Monitoring Network website: http://www.ccmn.ca/english/library/vsi/intro.html.
Pretty, J. (2003). Social capital and the collective management of resources. Science, 302, 142–148.
Pretty, J., Guijt, I., Thompson, J., & Scoones, I. (1995). Participatory learning and action: A trainer’s guide (p. 267). IIED Participatory Methodology Series, London.
Robertson, D. P., & Hull, R. B. (2001). Beyond Biology: Toward a more public ecology for conservation. Conservation Biology, 15, 970–979.
Root, T., & Alpert, P. (1994). Volunteers and the NBS. Science, 263, 1205.
Rosenberg, K. V., Hames, R. S., Rohrbaugh, R. W. Jr, Barker Swarthout, S. E., Lowe, J. D., & Dhondt, A. A. (2003). A land manager’s guide to improving habitat for forest thrushes. Ithaca: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Rosenberg, K. V., Rohrbaugh, R. W. Jr, Barker, S. E., Lowe, J. D., Hames, R. S., & Dhondt, A. A. (1999). A land manager’s guide to improving habitat for scarlet tanagers and other forest-interior birds. Ithaca: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Royle, J. A. (2004). Modeling abundance index data from anuran calling surveys. Conservation Biology, 18, 1378–1385.
Savan, B., Morgan, A., & Gore, C. (2003). Volunteer environmental monitoring and the role of the universities: The case of citizen’s watch. Environmental Management, 31, 561–568.
Schwartz, M. W. (2006). How conservation scientists can help develop social capital for biodiversity. Conservation Biology, 20, 1550–1552.
Sharpe, A., & Conrad, C. (2006). Community based ecological monitoring in Nova Scotia: Challenges and opportunities. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 13, 305–409.
Stem, C., Margoluis, R., Salafsky, N., & Brown, M. (2005). Monitoring and evaluation in conservation: A review of trends and approaches. Conservation Biology, 19, 295–309.
Stokes, P., Havas, M., & Brydges, T. (1990). Public participation and volunteer help in monitoring programs: An assessment. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 15, 225–229.
Sullivan, B., Wood, C., Iliff, M., Bonney, R., Fink, D., & Kelling, S. (2009). eBird: A citizen-based bird observation network in the biological sciences. Biological Conservation, 142, 2282–2292.
Sultana, P., & Abeyasekera, S. (2008). Effectiveness of participatory planning for community management of fisheries in Bangladesh. Journal of Environmental Management, 86, 201–213.
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (2009). Introducing the Aarhus Convention. Accessed on June 21, 2009 at http://www.unece.org/env/pp/.
Vos, P., Meelis, E., & Keurs, W. J. (2000). A framework for the design of ecological monitoring programs as a tool for environmental and nature management. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 61, 317–344.
Warren, R. D., & Witter, M. S. (2002). Monitoring trends in bat populations through roost surveys: Methods and data from Rhinolophus hipposideros. Biological Conservation, 105, 255–261.
Whitelaw, G., Vaughan, H., Craig, B., & Atkinson, D. (2003). Establishing the Canadian Community Monitoring Network. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 88, 409–418.
About this article
Cite this article
Conrad, C.C., Hilchey, K.G. A review of citizen science and community-based environmental monitoring: issues and opportunities. Environ Monit Assess 176, 273–291 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-010-1582-5
- Citizen science
- Community-based monitoring
- Social capital
- Environmental democratization