Using open access observational data for conservation action: A case study for birds
Ensuring that conservation decisions are informed by the best available data is a fundamental challenge in the face of rapid global environmental change. Too often, new science is not easily or quickly translated into conservation action. Open access data could serve as a tool to help bridge the gap between science and action, by providing conservation practitioners with access to relevant data in near real time. Broad-scale citizen-science data represent a fast-growing resource for open access databases, providing relevant and appropriately scaled data on organisms, much in the way autonomous sensors do so on the environment. This paper uses eBird, a project where individuals around the world submit data on bird distribution and abundance, as an example of how citizen-science data can be used to achieve tangible conservation science and action at local, regional, and global scales. This examination illustrates how these data can be strategically applied to improve our understanding of spatial and temporal distributions of birds, the impacts of anthropogenic change on ecological systems, and creative conservation solutions to complex problems.