Mapping species distributions: A comparison of skilled naturalist and lay citizen science recording

René van der Wal*, Helen Anderson, Anne-Marie Robinson, Nirwan Sharma, Chris Mellish, Stuart Roberts, Ben Darvill, Advaith Siddharthan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)
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To assess the ability of traditional biological recording schemes and lay citizen science approaches to gather data on species distributions and changes therein, we examined bumblebee records from the UK’s national repository (National Biodiversity Network) and from BeeWatch. The two recording approaches revealed similar relative abundances of bumblebee species but different geographical distributions. For the widespread common carder (Bombus pascuorum), traditional recording scheme data were patchy, both spatially and temporally, reflecting active record centre rather than species distribution. Lay citizen science records displayed more extensive geographic coverage, reflecting human population density, thus offering better opportunities to account for recording effort. For the rapidly spreading tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), both recording approaches revealed similar distributions due to a dedicated mapping project which overcame the patchy nature of naturalist records. We recommend, where possible, complementing skilled naturalist recording with lay citizen science programmes to obtain a nation-wide capability, and stress the need for timely uploading of data to the national repository.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)584-600
Number of pages17
Issue numberSuppl. 4
Early online date27 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015

Bibliographical note

We are grateful to Elaine O’Mahony, Imogen Pearce, Richard Comont, Anthony McCluskey and other BBCT staff for the many hours of BeeWatch species identification and for all people who submitted sightings to BeeWatch, OPAL, BWARS and the various local recording schemes and societies. We thank the NBN for allowing us to download the bumblebee records without strings attached, and the Essex, Greater London, Cumbria and Sussex based recording centres for providing records upon request. Finally, we are indebted to Tom August and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable critique on an earlier version of this work.


  • BeeWatch
  • Biological recording
  • Bumblebees
  • Citizen science
  • National Biodiversity Network
  • Species distribution


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