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Citizen scientists and local community monitoring input is key to halting biodiversity loss

29 April 2021
Data Monitoring

New research shows the potential for natural resource monitoring anchored in and conducted by communities to deliver credible data, inform decision-making, and empower communities in governing natural resources.

Mobile devices and social media as well as simple, low-tech methods allow for hundreds of millions of people to participate in scientific processes, gather monitoring information, and deliver results that are significant both locally and globally. 

This is important to ensure that natural resource management decisions are informed with the best available data and information. Currently available on-the-ground data are often extremely limited, especially in remote areas. 

Community members or citizen scientists can provide multiple, fine-scaled data points that cannot be measured by remote sensing. 

This includes changes like species abundance, habitat use and degradation, local use of biomass and hunted species, local pressures on nature, and the introductions of species outside their normal ranges. 

Local monitoring of natural resources can empower local people in natural resource management.   

For example, in Tanzania, the authors led a study of community member responses to a natural resource monitoring system in 23 villages. In four villages covered by a household survey, 86% of the respondents said they felt the monitoring system benefitted their household, with protection against encroachment on forest resources as the main benefit. 

Decisions from local monitoring are often taken promptly and at the local level by local government agencies and community leaders in response to immediate environmental threats. This encourages community buy-in, often making decisions relatively sustainable.  

Systematically involving local communities in monitoring the natural resources they depend on would significantly help to understand progress towards the post-2020 global biodiversity targets, and to inform the actions needed to make progress towards them. 

Local-scale monitoring can provide a path for local knowledge on the environment, including Indigenous knowledge, to be taken up more widely, and at the same time, enable the interpretation of global data sets through greater granular detail useful for guiding action by local stakeholders. Both these factors can help to secure better outcomes for nature and people.  

Natural resource monitoring could also contribute to preventing future pandemics.  

Local monitoring of ecosystem condition and wildlife health could play an important role in early warning systems for zoonotic diseases, where prompt detection can support prioritizing surveillance and prevent outbreaks.  

Finn Danielsen, Ecologist, Nordic Foundation for Development and Ecology (NORDECO), and lead author of the paper says:  “When fishermen, forest users and farmers systematically observe the environment, they can contribute towards better and more sustainable management of the natural resources and can make local communities more robust to change. Their efforts contribute in this way to a range of the different Sustainable Development Goals. The increased use of resource users’ knowledge can empower local communities and help communities develop economically within environmentally sustainable limits.” 

Neil Burgess, Chief Scientist, UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), and co-author of the paper says: “As the world looks ahead to a new set of global targets for nature, natural resource monitoring by local communities and citizen scientists has a crucial part to play. Local communities’ knowledge and input can complement global biodiversity datasets, helping build a clearer picture of what’s happening on the ground and what changes we need to make to succeed in tackling the global nature crisis.” 
The research was led by dr.scient. Finn Danielsen of the Nordic Foundation for Development and Ecology (NORDECO), with input from experts from the Danish Institute of International Studies, the Faculty of Science at the University of Copenhagen, and the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).  
The Concept, Practice, Application, and Results of Locally Based Monitoring the Environment is published 28 April 2021 in the journal BioScience. The paper is part of a Special Section on Community-Based Monitoring.