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Can Citizens Identify Tropical Trees?

A new study published in PLoS ONE compares community members and trained scientists' data on tree diversity in tropical forest in China.

The study showed that representatives of the local Yi community members can collect tree diversity data of comparable quality to trained botanists, at one third the cost. Without access to herbaria, identification guides or the Internet, the community members could provide the ethno-taxonomical names for 95% of 1071 trees in 60 vegetation plots.

The botanical field team was led by the late Professor J.F. Maxwell, botanist and curator at Chiang Mai Herbarium. He had more than 40 years’ experience of collecting and describing the Thai and Indochinese flora. The study was led by Ida Theilade of University of Copenhagen and co-authored by Søren Brofeldt, Michael Køie Poulsen, Anna Gottlieb and Finn Danielsen of NORDECO.

Biodiversity conservation is a required co-benefit of the policy mechanism ”Reducing Emissions from Forest Degradation and Deforestation” known as REDD+. Biodiversity monitoring is therefore needed, yet in most areas it will be constrained by limitations in the available human professional and financial resources. REDD+ programs that use forest plots for biomass monitoring may be able to take advantage of the same data for detecting changes in the tree diversity, using the richness and abundance of canopy trees as a proxy for biodiversity. If local community members are already assessing the above-ground biomass in a representative network of forest vegetation plots, it may require minimal further effort to collect data on the diversity of trees.

Link to paper here.

Full reference:

Zhao M, Brofeldt S, Li Q, Xu J, Danielsen F, Laessøe SBL, Poulsen MK, Gottlieb A, Maxwell JF, Theilade I. (2016) Can Community Members Identify Tropical Tree Species for REDD+ Carbon and Biodiversity Measurements? PLoS ONE 11(11): e0152061. doi:10.1371/journal.

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