Importance of Volunteer Training and Identification Ability on Results of Great Lakes Marsh Monitoring Program Bird Surveys

Smith-Cartwright, L. A., Cvetkovic, M., Tozer, D. and Chow-Fraser, P.


Citizen scientists are increasingly called upon to help monitor wildlife populations such as marsh birds. Volunteer participation in monitoring can be beneficial by contributing important information for managers, often at such a large scale that the data would otherwise be unobtainable. Such programs have also been the subject of scrutiny, with concerns arising mainly from questions of data quality. The specific objectives of this study are 1) to assess the effectiveness of training to improve volunteers’ ability to identify marsh birds and 2) to determine how such an ability may affect the results of bird surveys conducted through Bird Studies Canada’s Great Lakes Marsh Monitoring Program. In self-administered tests, training materials improved volunteers’ accuracy by 11–25% on visual and aural identification. In the field, total bird abundance and species richness were unaffected by test scores, but species composition differed based on ability. Volunteers with poorer identification skills detected more obligate marsh bird species and this affected the Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) scores calculated at one of the sites. However, when the IBI scores were pooled for all volunteers, the data accurately reflected the degree of disturbance at each site. Our results confirm that training contributes to the ability of MMP volunteers to monitor the health of Great Lakes wetlands and that useful information on MMP surveys can be collected by volunteers with different levels of skill in identification; however, IBIs based on results collected by a single volunteer with unknown ability should be carefully scrutinized.

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