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Citizen science helps echidna conservation efforts

The short-beaked echidna (Tachyglosse aculeatus ssp.), an iconic egg-laying mammal native to Australia, lives in diverse and often remote environments. Although some regional populations are well explored, a broad understanding of the species’ distribution is elusive. Tahlia Perry et al. launched the Echidna Conservation Science Initiative (EchidnaCSI), a citizen science project to collect information on echidnas across Australia. Participants were recruited via news and social media, encouraged to submit photographs of wild echidna sightings via a smartphone app, and asked to collect and send scat samples for DNA analysis. Over 3 years, the project garnered 9,079 unique app downloads, of which 2,816 users submitted 8,090 sightings and 406 scat samples across all states and territories in Australia. To understand participants’ motivation, the authors surveyed a subset and found that of 944 respondents, 64% had submitted data while 36% were engaged in the project despite not encountering an echidna. Savage. The main motives of the participants included wildlife conservation, curiosity about echidnas and contributing to scientific research. Through community involvement, the project has amassed the largest collection of echidna research material to date from otherwise inaccessible locations. According to the authors, EchidnaCSI demonstrates the power of citizen science in collecting coveted data about a cryptic mammal and raising community awareness of conservation goals. – SOUTH DAKOTA

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