Study shows value of public vigilance in tree disease monitoring

"Citizen scientists" can accurately and efficiently report disease outbreaks in native trees, according to scientists from Forest Research and Rothamsted Research.

Image: Forestry Commission
Image: Forestry Commission

Presenting evidence at the British Ecological Society annual meeting in Edinburgh last month, the researchers said that data submitted by public volunteers on Acute Oak Decline (AOD) across England and Wales "showed clear similarities" to a similar scientific survey.

These "citizen scientists" followed online instructions, and some even had training from Forest Research professionals on how to identify disease symptoms and to take swab samples for experts to verify.

According to study author Dr Nathan Brown: "This research provided a unique opportunity not only to map the known extent of AOD in the UK but to compare the results from historical and current records submitted by citizen scientists to that of data from a systematic and scientifically robust survey."

He added: "This approach can provide an efficient early warning system for pests and diseases, and our findings suggest volunteer detections can also be used to define the distribution of affected woodland."

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