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Data capture on the brussels biodiversity by citizens (crowdsourcing)

Crowdsourcing initiatives designed to promote environmental data capture by citizens are growing in number. The objectives pursued are scientific but also educational, since this aspect is developed in varying degrees depending on the project.

The website www.bru.observations.be is a portal which allows everyone, whether an experienced naturalist or amateur, to record his or her observations of animal and plant species in the Brussels Region. Overall between 2008 and 2014, for most of the taxonomic groups, we can observe an increase in the number of people who registered their observations on the site. This trend is probably partly linked to the growing popularity of the site.

Informing citizens and making them aware of nature are important elements of a sustainable urban development policy. This awareness-raising is likely to have numerous positive implications in terms of respect for green spaces and biodiversity, as well as in terms of  general interest in environmental issues and education related to the living world – in particular concerning childrens- and even by stimulating the active involvement in environmental projects. Moreover, contact with nature leads to significant physical and psychological benefits. The observation of animal or plant species carried out by professional or amateur naturalists is one of the facets of this interest in nature.  Besides the benefits previously referred to, observation also directly helps to improve knowledge about local biodiversity.

The websites www.observations.be and www.bru.observations.be, which were developed in 2008 at the initiative of Aves-Natagora and the Stichting Natuurinformatie, are portals were everyone can upload their own observations of flora and fauna. www.waarnemingen.be and www.bru.waarnemingen.be, initiatives of Natuurpunt and the Stichting Natuurinformatie, are the Dutch-speaking versions of these sites. The French-speaking and Dutch-speaking sites share the same database, meaning that the observations uploaded in one system are visible and shared in the other. The content of these sites comes from observations made by both working groups and experts and occasionally by experienced or amateur naturalists. However, a validation procedure is applied for observations.

The indicators displayed in the charts below make it possible to show, on an annual basis, how many people regularly upload observations of flora and fauna to these sites which are found in the Brussels Region, and for different taxonomic groups. Only people who have observed more than 5 different species per year  (10 for birds) within the same taxonomic group, or more than 100 different species from all groups combined, have their observations recorded.

These data show a general increase in observations for most of the taxonomic groups. Although this trend was mainly attributed to the growing popularity of the site in the early years, the effect of the public's growing interest in certain taxonomic groups should be more determining over time.

Annual evolution of the number of regular observers, per taxonomic groups
Source: www.bru.observations.be

Birds constitute the most popular taxonomic group in terms of observations. Since 2010, the growth in the number of observers has tended nonetheless to slow down, which could be explained by the fact that the website www.observations.be is more widely known among its target public. 
For the four other groups enjoying a certain popularity among the public (plants, diurnal butterflies, dragonflies and mushrooms), the number of observers has increased relatively regularly from year to year. This is not so surprising given that the species observed are generally easy to observe.

The series of "semi-popular groups" (nocturnal butterflies, hymenoptera, beetles, diptera, bugs and cicadas, other arthropods) also shows an upward trend, although it is less pronounced.  This is nonetheless a positive finding given that the species belonging to these groups are generally difficult to observe, and their taxonomic identification requires the use of specialised literature.

The final series, which includes less popular species in terms of observations uploaded, is made up of, surprisingly, vertebrate taxonomic groups (other than birds): mammals, fish, amphibians and reptiles.  However these are groups which are  well known to the public. Their generally hidden or nocturnal lifestyles probably explain, at least in part, the limited number of observations. We should point out that, with regards to fish, no observer has uploaded more than 6 observations per year at the present time. The limited number of observers concerning the remaining taxonomic groups (crickets and locusts, other insects, molluscs and other invertebrates, mosses and lichens) is less surprising. Nevertheless, for these species as well, the number of observers has shown a slight overall upward trend from year to year, for most of the taxonomic groups.

Distribution of observations between the different taxonomic groups.
Source : www.bru.observations.be

Between the creation of the site and September 2015, more than 500,000 have been uploaded to

www.bru.observations.be, including a certain number of historical observations prior to 2008. Almost 90% of these observations relate to plants and birds.

Datum van de update: 30/05/2020