Citizen Science Contributions to Address Biodiversity Loss and Conservation Planning in a Rapidly Developing Region
Biodiversity data support conservation research and inform conservation decisions addressing the wicked problem of biodiversity loss. However, these data often need processing and compilation before use, which exceed the time availability of professional scientists. Nevertheless, scientists can recruit, train, and support a network of citizen scientists to prepare these data using online platforms. Here, we describe three citizen science projects sponsored by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission to transcribe and georeference historic herbarium specimens and document current biodiversity through iNaturalist for two highly biodiverse and rapidly developing counties in Northwest Arkansas, USA. Citizen science-generated data will be used in a county natural heritage inventory (CNHI) report, including a comprehensive list of taxa tied to voucher specimens and records for rare plant populations. Since the CNHI project started in 2018, citizen scientists have transcribed 8855 and georeferenced 2636 specimen records. From iNaturalist observations, 125 rare plant populations of 39 taxa have been documented. This CNHI report will determine the most critical taxa, habitats, and sites for conservation action in the region and will inform conservation stakeholders at the local, state, and federal levels as they engage in land acquisition, ecological restoration, natural resource management, planning of growth and development, and environmental review/regulation.