Friday, December 11, 2015

Citizen Science in Malaysia

Over the past 50 years, Southeast Asia has suffered the greatest losses of biodiversity of any tropical region in the world. Malaysia is a biodiversity hotspot in the heart of Southeast Asia with roughly the same number of mammal species, three times the number of butterfly species, but only 4% of the land area of Australia. Consequently, in Malaysia, there is an urgent need for biodiversity monitoring and also public engagement with wildlife to raise awareness of biodiversity loss. Citizen science is “on the rise” globally and can make valuable contributions to long-term biodiversity monitoring, but perhaps more importantly, involving the general public in science projects can raise public awareness and promote engagement. Butterflies are often the focus of citizen science projects due to their charisma and familiarity and are particularly valuable “ambassadors” of biodiversity conservation for public outreach.

The Peninsular Malaysia Butterfly Count is a great example for citizen science involving school children. We were following their work through Facebook already for a while and it is wonderful that all this work and its results now made it into the scientific literature through an article just published in Pensofts Biodiversity Data Journal.

Congrats to John Wilson and his team - keep up the good work. Here's their summary:

1) The level of participation in the first Peninsular Malaysia Butterfly Count was encouraging, but reaching and engaging rural communities remains a challenge.

2) The non-lethal DNA barcoding approach for species identification worked effectively, however, protocols could be improved to limit the number of returned samples which could not be identified. The family-level identification guide could use some improvement but provides an important educational tool for the participants.

3) The sampled butterflies revealed that widely distributed, cosmopolitan species, often recently arrived to the peninsula or with documented "invasive" potential, dominate the habitats sampled by the participants. Data from the first Butterfly Count helps establish a baseline from which we can monitor changes in butterfly communities in Peninsular Malaysia.

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