Vijay Barve, doctoral student in geography at the University of Kansas said that social networks could supplement data available via established biodiversity websites.

"Though data about birds is available on sites like GBIF, social networking would add a lot of data on groups like butterflies, moths and other insects," he said.

"Basically any organism which can be identified using photographs to certain confidence would be available on social networking sites," said Barve.
Barve demonstrated social networks to be a viable source for photo-vouchered biodiversity records, especially those that clarify which species exist in what places within developing nations.

"There are two main reasons why geographic and taxonomic gaps exist in developing nations," he said.

"First, because of colonial history, most of the historical collections are deposited with European museums and are not largely digitised yet due to lack of priority. Second, most developing countries have not invested in curating and digitising biodiversity in their collections yet," said Barve.

Barve, who was mentored in his work by Town Peterson at KU's Biodiversity Institute, has pored over photos of monarch butterflies and snowy owls on the photo-sharing social network Flickr, finding them to be a rich source of biodiversity data.

Not just photos, but also their associated metadata, makes this possible, he said.

"We need a date, place — meaning coordinates not just the name of the place and who has seen it. Identifications could be done by naturalists and experts," he said.

Barve stressed that photos from non-experts would be valuable to two of the three broad classes of occurrence records used by scientists: directed surveys and broad-scale surveys.

"Anybody with camera who takes pictures of curious creatures would contribute to what I am harvesting," he said.

"The person posting needs to tag the photo with any term indicating a biodiversity element. That's the requirement to show that item in my searches," said Barve.

While Barve selected Flickr to prove the usefulness of social media to biodiversity research, he said that any social network could be mined for worthwhile data, given a few requirements.

"The ability of social network sites to record the date photo was taken, rather than just posted, and geo-tagging the photo are most important," Barve said.

"To automate the searches the social network sites should also provide extensive search and ability to access the site programmatically," said Barve.

The study was published in the journal Ecological Informatics.

Latest News from Lifestyle News Desk