Voluntary contributions by citizen scientists can gather large datasets covering wide geographical areas, and are increasingly utilized by researchers for multiple applications, including arthropod vector surveillance. Online platforms such as iNaturalist accumulate crowdsourced biological observations from around the world and these data could also be useful for monitoring vectors. The aim of this study was to explore the availability of observations of important vector taxa on the iNaturalist platform and examine the utility of these data to complement existing vector surveillance activities. Of ten vector taxa investigated, records were most numerous for mosquitoes (Culicidae; 23,018 records, 222 species) and ticks (Ixodida; 16,214 records, 87 species), with most data from 2019-2020. Case studies were performed to assess whether images associated with records were of sufficient quality to identify species and compare iNaturalist observations of vector species to the known situation at the state, national and regional level based on existing published data. Firstly, tick data collected at the national (United Kingdom) or state (Minnesota, USA) level were sufficient to determine seasonal occurrence and distribution patterns of important tick species, and were able to corroborate and complement known trends in tick distribution. Importantly, tick species with expanding distributions (Haemaphysalis punctata in the UK, and Amblyomma americanum in Minnesota) were also detected. Secondly, using iNaturalist data to monitor expanding tick species in Europe (Hyalomma spp.) and the USA (Haemaphysalis longicornis), and invasive Aedes mosquitoes in Europe, showed potential for tracking these species within their known range as well as identifying possible areas of expansion. Despite known limitations associated with crowdsourced data, this study shows that iNaturalist can be a valuable source of information on vector distribution and seasonality that could be used to supplement existing vector surveillance data, especially at a time when many surveillance programs may have been interrupted by COVID-19 restrictions.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2021 Benjamin Cull. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
PubMed: MeSH publication types
- Journal Article
- Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural