Data from: Estimates of observer expertise improve species distributions from citizen science data

  • Alison Johnston (Contributor)
  • Daniel Fink (Contributor)
  • Wesley M. Hochachka (Contributor)
  • Steve Kelling (Contributor)



1. Citizen science data are increasingly making valuable contributions to ecological studies. However, many citizen science surveys are also designed to encourage wide participation and therefore the participants have a range of natural history expertise, leading to variation and potentially bias in the data. 2. We assessed a recently proposed measure of observer expertise, calculated based on the average numbers of species recorded by observers. We investigated if this observer expertise score is associated with how often an observer records any individual species. Species reporting rates increased monotonically with the observer’s expertise score for 197 of 200 species, suggesting that this expertise score describes inter-observer variation in the detectability of individual species. 3. Expertise scores were incorporated into single-species occupancy models as a covariate, to explain inter-observer variation in detectability. Including expertise as a detectability covariate led to improved model fit and improved predictive performance on validation data. The expertise score had a large effect on the estimated detectability, comparable in magnitude to the effect of the duration of the observation period. 4. Expertise scores were also included into single-species occupancy models that estimated seasonal patterns in species occupancy and seasonal expertise effects. The addition of a seasonal effect of expertise led to improved model fit and increased predictive performance on validation data. The seasonal expertise variables accounted for bias that may be introduced by seasonal differences in the effect of expertise, caused by changes in the environment or species behaviour. 5. Measures of observer expertise included in models as a covariate can account for heterogeneity and bias introduced by variable expertise, although in this example the differences in estimated occupancy were small. This method of incorporating observer expertise can be used in any regression model of species occurrence, occupancy, abundance, or density to produce more reliable ecological inference and may be most important where citizen science schemes encourage wide participation. Overall, the results highlight the value of recording observer identity and other detectability covariates, to control for sources of bias associated with the observation process.,eBird checklist information from BCR23 years 2004-2012This dataset is a curated proportion of the eBird dataset ERD5.0 (Munson et al 2013). It includes the data necessary to replicate the analysis in the paper. These data were collected by citizen scientists participating in the eBird survey. The dataset includes checklists from Bird Conservation Region 23 and years 2004-2012. In addition, there were a number of other filters - see the read-me file for further information.eBird_BCR23_2004_2012.txt,
Date made available20 Jan 2017

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