Citizen science helps predict risk of emerging infectious disease
Ross K Meentemeyer, Monica A Dorning, John B Vogler, Douglas Schmidt, and Matteo Garbelotto
Engaging citizen scientists is becoming an increasingly popular technique for collecting large amounts of ecolog- ical data while also creating an avenue for outreach and public support for research. Here we describe a unique study, in which citizen scientists played a key role in the spatial prediction of an emerging infectious disease. The yearly citizen-science program called “Sudden Oak Death (SOD) Blitz” engages and educates volunteers in detect- ing the causal pathogen during peak windows of seasonal disease expression. We used these data – many of which were collected from under-sampled urban ecosystems – to develop predictive maps of disease risk and to inform stakeholders on where they should prioritize management efforts. We found that continuing the SOD Blitz program over 6 consecutive years improved our understanding of disease dynamics and increased the accu- racy of our predictive models. We also found that self-identified non-professionals were just as capable of detect- ing the disease as were professionals. Our results indicate that using long-term citizen-science data to predict the risk of emerging infectious plant diseases in urban ecosystems holds substantial promise.