Blog Post

Ecology and Conservation Citizen Science Ethical Concerns–A Call for Case Studies

Improving Ecology & Conservation

Citizen Science Ethics

Case studies are a great way to think through the kinds of ethical issues faced in research. Please help the CSA Ethics Working Group gather case studies in the domain of ecology and conservation citizen science that highlight typical and/or potential ethical issues in fieldwork. For example, cases could address fieldwork practices; permit issues; data sharing (particularly for the protection of habitat and wildlife); and more. We also welcome ethical case studies from traditional ecology and conservation science concerning general ethical principles.

If you have encountered ethical issues in your work that would be helpful for the citizen science community to discuss, please share them with us. You don’t need to be an author; we will help craft the case studies so that they are engaging and in a consistent format. But you are the experts in the kinds of ethical issues faced in this field, so we need your help in identifying the issues.


Add to them – Share with us more examples, stories or concerns » Here (Google Form)

□ Ethics in the Field

Basic ethical guidelines focused on minimizing the impact on wildlife and habitat are simply lacking (for both science and citizen science). Questions here might include how can we ensure that CS biodiversity monitoring abides by ethical principles to ensure that these actions do not cause ecological harm? How might these ethical principles be communicated and monitored differently between crowdsourced opportunistic projects e.g. iNaturalist, eBird, along the ladder of participation to community science projects?

□ Large-scale Opportunistic Biodiversity Documentation Citizen Science

Social platforms such as iNaturalist, eBird, and the like are creating a new kind of massive opportunistic citizen science with potential consequences for wildlife and flora. This is a scalability issue. In ecology field projects, often what is doable with a small number of participants operating in the field might not be scalable and could potentially lead to rapid habitat degradation and decrease in wildlife welfare. One question here is how can we ensure that this kind of citizen science, with so many contributors, abides by ethical principles to ensure that these actions do not cause ecological harm? 

□ Habitat & Wildlife Data Privacy Rules

The issue of protecting citizen scientists’ data privacy has already been identified. But there is also a need to address data ‘privacy’ of habitats and wildlife in order to protect species and habitat locations from alarming rates of habitat degradation, one of the  primary causes of biodiversity loss.

□ Conservation Science Volunteering / Ecotourism (Expedition-style Citizen Science)

There has been an explosion of citizen science projects designed mainly to obtain funds, and only minimally to provide science insights. Many such projects solicit funds from paying members, misusing the terms “science” and “citizen science” ; others use the “conservation” label as a means to obtain free labor (from young conservationists, students, etc.). There is an existing need to validate and regulate what constitutes proper conservation citizen science. The field should also address proper partnership ethics (with local communities and leaders), and ensure good work ethics including setting proper expectations for volunteers while respecting their time and skills.

Neo-colonialism and Parachute Citizen Science

Neo-colonialism and parachute science have been identified as significant ethical issues in biodiversity conservation. Because many citizen scientists travel internationally from higher income countries to lower income countries, citizen science has the potential to contribute to these issues if these programs perpetuate the “white-savior” Western-view of conservation or do not effectively engage with researchers and other stakeholders in the host nation. To avoid neo-colonialism and parachute science, conservation projects should invest in local scientific talent and infrastructure and collaborate with local communities and stakeholders. The same applies to citizen science.


These are only a few topics, and we are sure there are more. We want to hear from you. What other ethical issues do you think need to be addressed in conservation citizen science?

Add / Share with us more examples » Here (Google Form)

✉ For questions, please contact Claire O’Neill at (POC for this initiative and co-chair of the CSA Ethics Working Group).

ⓘ Get involved–Join the Biodiversity & Environmental Ethics Topic Room on CSA Connect!

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