Crowdsourcing campaign identifies drivers of rainforest loss

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To tackle forest loss in the tropics, a new study is using crowdsourcing to identify the drivers of deforestation. The resulting dataset can be used to create high-resolution maps and help policy makers apply the best protective measures.

Every year, 10 million hectares of forests disappear around the world, mainly due to human activities such as the expansion of agriculture, the construction of roads or the extraction of wood. To combat this trend and apply effective conservation measures, it is crucial to understand the drivers of forest loss.

In a new study published in Nature science data, an international team of researchers harnessed the power of the crowd and set up a crowdsourcing campaign in December 2020 on the Geo-Wiki platform to compile data on the drivers of tropical forest loss between 2008 and 2019. In the In the analysis, researchers asked participants to identify the predominant and secondary driver of visible tree loss in a randomly indicated location between 30° north and south of the equator and note whether any roads, trails or buildings were present.

The campaign was designed as a competition, with prizes offered to those who contributed the most, based on a combination of quality and quantity. 58 participants from various countries entered and together they examined nearly 115,000 locations in the tropics, resulting in a dataset that has higher spatial resolution than any other such dataset to date.

“Thanks to the high resolution and dense spatial sample of this dataset, we can create refined maps and better understand the drivers of forest loss over the past decade,” says researcher Juan Carlos Laso Bayas. at IIASA, lead author of the study. “This is crucial in guiding policy makers towards protecting remaining primeval forests, especially in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss.”

As well as being the first Geo-Wiki campaign focused on tropical deforestation, this campaign was also a step up from previous Geo-Wiki efforts, providing participants with comprehensive training materials and instructional videos, ensuring high data quality. It was also possible to speak “face to face” with IIASA experts via a chat service to solve any problems that may arise during the campaign.

The dataset is open source and can be used by researchers, policymakers and the public. A recent study by IIASA researchers has already used the data, analyzing deforestation in protected areas to assess the effectiveness of conservation measures and accelerate management changes if needed.

“Engaging with scientists through crowdsourcing campaigns such as this is easy, rewarding, and can be of the utmost importance in generating real policy change by providing validated data on global events,” concludes Linda See, IIASA researcher and author of the study.

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Material provided by International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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