Monitoring public awareness about the northern bald ibis with pupils

PeerJ

Abstract

Background
Citizen science has evolved over the past decades by motivating members of the public to interact with scientists and actively participate in scientific research and monitoring. For this purpose, a proficient communication is mandatory in order to efficiently convey messages and reduce the gap of knowledge between scientists and lay people. In the present study, we aimed at evaluating the multiplying effect of children, who were trained to communicate their knowledge on an endangered bird species in order to engage the local community in the long-term ornithological monitoring of the free flying and individually marked colony of northern bald ibis (NBI, Geronticus eremita), which was established at the research station in 1997.

Methods
Pupils of the local primary schools were in regular contact with researchers, enjoyed outdoor encounters with the birds, and were invited to talk about their experience with as many people as possible. Later on, they acted as surveyors to assess the knowledge of the public on (i) the general knowledge about the species, (ii) specific knowledge about the local colony, and (iii) attitudes towards science. In two different years of evaluation (2012 and 2016) a total number of 387 persons were surveyed. The questions were generated together with the pupils and their teachers and the questionnaires were similar for both years of evaluation. All queries were in a closed format.

Results
Our results show an increase in the proportion of correct answers provided by the surveyed persons between the two years of evaluation. Education-based activities may encourage children to effectively act as multipliers of information and attitudes. This has the potential to induce sustainable changes with respect to attitude towards science, at least among local communities. Furthermore, the study suggests caution with the quality of some information reported by citizen scientists, which might be solved by more careful training actions and more specific information about local particularities. Even though the study would have gained more informative power with some additional precautions than in its current form, our findings recommend the empowerment of pupils as multipliers of scientific knowledge.

Frigerio, D., Pühringer-Sturmayr, V., Neuböck-Hubinger, B., Gegendorfer, G., Kotrschal, K., & Hirschenhauser, K. (2019). Monitoring public awareness about the endangered northern bald ibis: A case study involving primary school children as citizen scientists. PeerJ, 7, [e7569]. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.7569