Enhancing plant biosecurity with citizen science monitoring: comparing methodologies using reports of acute oak decline

  • E. BakerEmail author
  • M. J. Jeger
  • J. D. Mumford
  • N. Brown
Original Article


Monitoring of forest pests and diseases is resource-intensive, requiring individual woodlands and trees to be visited and assessed for symptoms. Climate change and increased global connectivity are amplifying the scale of the monitoring challenge, with the number of new plant biosecurity threats increasing each year. Citizen science can increase the scale of pest and disease surveys. However, it is argued that citizen science data can be biased and inaccurate. This study examines potential biases in citizen science data by focusing on the case study of acute oak decline (AOD), a disease syndrome impacting native oaks within the UK associated with the beetle Agrilus biguttatus. Analysis was performed using two contrasting citizen science data set sources: the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas, which is a repository for citizen science data sets, and Tree Alert, a targeted citizen science project that encouraged landowners and the public to report the occurrence of AOD. For both data sets, detection was more likely in locations with higher Coleoptera reports, suggesting that there are hubs of recorder activity. For the NBN data set, A. biguttatus was more likely to be found in areas where historic parks and gardens were present. For the Tree Alert data set, A. biguttatus was less likely to be found on open access land, indicating that the programme was successful in engaging private landowners. These results indicate that understanding sources of bias within reporting schemes is an important step in data analysis and that the inclusion of structured survey designs would enable the extent of biases to be documented.


Biosecurity Distribution modelling Citizen science Reporter bias 

JEL Classification

Q23 Q58 



The work presented in this paper depended greatly on the availability of “self-reported data” from many concerned individuals who made reports to Tree Alert; we would like to thank them all for taking the time to do so. Further, we are extremely grateful for the goodwill and support of all the private landowners and managers who granted permission to visit their land during the surveys. This work would not have been possible without the data from Brown et al. (2017a; Dryad Digital Repository Surveys were funded as part of Defra Project TH01008. Rothamsted Research receives funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), and ongoing oak research is supported by Woodland Heritage. Information describing the distribution of A. biguttatus was sourced through NBN Atlas occurrence records, downloaded at Accessed on 1 June 2017. The original data sources and data sets are provided in the supplementary material. The Data Provider and the NBN Trust bear no responsibility for any further analysis or interpretation of that material, data and/or information. All rights reserved NERC 100017897 2004. This research benefited from useful discussions with Dr David Slawson, the Director of Open Air Laboratories (OPAL), who provided valuable insight into the use of citizen science in research and policy.

Supplementary material

10109_2018_285_MOESM1_ESM.docx (14 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 14 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Environmental PolicyImperial College LondonAscotUK
  2. 2.Biointeractions and Crop Protection, Rothamsted ResearchHarpendenUK
  3. 3.CEHPenicuikUK

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