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The ‘cottage effect’ in citizen science? Spatial bias in aquatic monitoring programs

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Citizen science aquatic monitoring programs often rely on opportunistic, incidental contributions, which can lead to spatial bias, the uneven geographical distribution of sample sites. It is less known how this spatial bias compares to professional monitoring activities, or how geospatial biases (e.g. terrain slope, population density, road density) influence aquatic citizen science and professional lake monitoring programs. This paper compares sample sites in Ontario’s volunteer Lake Partner Program, against those identified by a stratified random sampling method currently used by the Province of Ontario, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Exploration of spatial bias within each sampling method was conducted using Kernel Density Estimation, a nonparametric approach to interpolating the spatial trend of a given variable. Results indicate that two distinct patterns of sampling clusters exist between the two datasets, suggesting a ‘cottage effect’ in which volunteers are more likely to sample accessible locations associated with recreation and summer home ownership. Although professional monitoring programs are not exempt from spatial bias, our research suggests that citizen science lake monitoring programs in Ontario are more influenced by natural and demographic biases related to the location, accessibility, size and general attractiveness of lakes.
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Keywords: Citizen science data; community-based monitoring; lake monitoring; methods comparison; spatial bias

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Environmental Applied Science and Management, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada 2: Chemistry and Biology, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada

Publication date: August 3, 2019

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