A new study shows the multiple insights that citizens bring while participating in an ecological assessment. Involving the local population ensures both the creation of reliable data and a greater public support for scientific and conservation projects.
The International Research Laboratory REHABS (supported by CNRS, Nelson Mandela University and University of Lyon), created about a year ago, gathers scientists working on the interface between protected areas and their neighbouring landscapes, wildlife ecology and human-wildlife coexistence, in the context of climate change. The IRL collaborates with the Sustainability Research Unit, based in George (Western Cape). The scientists aim to find solutions for a sustainable harmony among humans, wildlife and the environment.
In this new paper, they tested a methodology to showcase the feasibility of public participation in species distribution mapping and discuss its relevance for ecological studies and conservation planning. Academics, students, residents, wildlife watch groups and even mountain biking associations were invited to indicate when and where they recently spotted wild chacma baboons. As part of his research for a Master degree, Elie Pedarros gathered information from 59 informants, reporting a total of 355 sightings during 7 workshops.
This data proved very useful as it led to the mapping of baboon occurrence in the municipality of George in the Western Cape. “The comparison with scientific field observations and GPS collaring data in similar areas showed the relevance of using public sightings for modelling wildlife occurrence. We can trust the data people gather,” said Hervé Fritz, director of the IRL. Organizing workshops and inviting local stakeholders proved to be a cost-effective and non-invasive method to collect relevant data for understanding wildlife occurrence in anthropogenic landscape.
In addition, this participatory research provides citizens a space to express and share their views around the challenges and opportunities for sustainable coexistence between human and wildlife. The researchers believe that engaging people in this kind of approach is a pre-requisite for increasing the success of integrated wildlife conservation. “Participatory mapping could reconcile people and wildlife welfare in conservation science and practice” the authors wrote. “The citizens proposed adaptive and sustainable solutions to mitigate damages caused by baboons near human settlements,” Dr Fritz added. The next step will be to explore how these participatory research platforms could foster collaborative management of human-wildlife interfaces and find biosphere-based solutions to make social-ecological systems thrive.
Elie Pédarros et al., Rallying citizen knowledge to assess wildlife occurrence and habitat suitability in anthropogenic landscapes, Biological Conservation, Volume 242, February 2020, 108407.