Aug 15

Why Citizen Science, Why Now?

Dr. Sara Paull, Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado

Collecting and identifying mosquito larvae is hard work, so many will want to know how the data they collect will be used. Our interest in mosquitoes specifically stems from their importance as vectors of human diseases. If we can improve our understanding of where we find a particular mosquito species, we will be able to better predict the risk of the pathogens that are carried by that mosquito species.
Mosquito sampling programs are expensive, requiring costly traps, people to set them out, and hours of time for sorting them and entering the data. Remote areas are often under-sampled, and the resulting data can sometimes be difficult for researchers to acquire. Citizen science collections offer an exciting opportunity to fill in some of the surveillance and reporting gaps.

Much of the data describing global meteorological variables and land use change can be obtained from satellites. Combining this information with global observations of mosquito larvae on the ground collected by citizen scientists will help move vector-borne disease research forward in two key ways.
The first is by providing real-time validation of models that predict the conditions under which particular mosquito species are expected to be found. If samples are collected outside the expected distribution, then it suggests that scientists should take another look to make sure the models are correct and don’t need to be adjusted.

The second way these data are helpful is to develop new hypotheses to describe the effects of temperature, precipitation and humidity on mosquito abundance and distribution patterns. As mentioned above, these relationships can be quite complex and non-linear.

One of the major advantages of citizen science data is that it provides a preliminary global dataset to help develop predicted relationships that can then be tested with rigorous sampling regimes in key areas. This allows scientists to focus their resources and efforts in areas that are the most likely to yield important results.

Accurate predictions of where mosquito-borne disease risks are going to be the highest under future climate change are of critical importance to avoid wasting scarce public health resources. Citizen scientists should feel good knowing that they are contributing to the research necessary to make such predictions. Thanks for all your hard work!