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EC LIFE Programme: EU birdwatchers offer bird's-eye view

Datum 09.02.2018

Ornithology institutes across Europe have brought online the largest citizen science dataset ever produced on biodiversity in the EU.

The LIFE-funded Euro Bird Portal has uploaded over 40 million of bird observations and translated them into animated maps. More than 100 000 amateur birdwatchers have contributed to the dataset. Combined with nationally-funded observation campaigns, the records are helping scientists re-evaluate the conservation status of 105 avian species, notably tracking changes in their behaviour linked to climate change.

Euro Bird PortalDistribution of the White Stork in Europe at 12 - 18 February Quelle: Image rights: Euro Bird Portal

Over the past decade, a growing network of online portals has collected unprecedented volumes of bird observations. Unlike traditional wildlife monitoring projects that typically record highly targeted data over limited areas and periods of time, amateur birdwatchers can contribute simple observations all year round and from all corners of the planet.

The challenge for scientists has been to draw large-scale trends from casual bird sightings and official monitoring programmes. Observations are uploaded on separate online portals, each covering its own aim and geographic range. This makes it hard for scientists to spot Europe-wide developments from the datasets. But according to Gabriel Gargallo, coordinator of the EuroBirdPortal, these data are complementary. Combining them could benefit ornithologists everywhere.

Citizen-assisted ornithology

The Euro Bird Portal is helping to meet these challenges by centralising data from numerous bird recording portals. The compilation shows seasonal changes in the distribution and migration patterns of European birds.

The website’s data viewer presents week-by-week distributions of 105 bird species in Europe together with maps of climate variables. Two animated maps can be displayed side-by-side to visualise relationships between these datasets.

“We hope that the improved version of the Euro Bird Portal viewer will highlight the value of the data collected through the online bird portals operating across Europe,” said Gabriel Gargallo, underlining the scientific importance of sharing bird observations.

The LIFE-funded improvements in user experience have given the website’s data viewer a new design and added features like geographic zooming. Its databanks now incorporate observations from 29 countries across Europe. The updated version has brought in data from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Romania and Turkey, offering an overview of migration patterns across the continent.

At present, most of the observations flowing into these databanks are sent by amateur birdwatchers through mobile apps like NaturaList. Partners in the Euro Bird Portal expect the trends in its data to grow clearer as the number of observations rises over the years. Sightings already extend back across seven years, providing fresh insight to biologists and conservationists alike.

Charting migration

“Thanks to these combined efforts we are in a better position to understand changes in bird migration patterns,” said Gabriel Gargallo, Euro Bird Portal project coordinator. He says that data provided by volunteers is notably helping professional researchers chart out the new route followed by cranes in southern Europe, and the influence of weather and climate on bird migration.

Research on wildlife migration patterns is growing increasingly relevant as traditional migration patterns adapt to human influences, notably to global warming. This has important implications for the conservation and management of European bird populations.

“Most European bird populations are migratory and many of these migration patterns are changing rapidly, particularly in relation to climate change,” said Stephen Baillie from the British Trust for Ornithology. “We need to understand how and why bird distributions change throughout the year in order to underpin sound conservation and management. The information being made available through EuroBirdPortal will make a crucial contribution to achieving these objectives.”

Read this and more on the EC's LIFE website

Go to Euro Bird Portal