Elementary school children contribute to environmental research as citizen scientists

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


Research benefits increasingly from valuable contributions by citizen scientists. Mostly, participating adults investigate specific species, ecosystems or phenology to address conservation issues, but ecosystem functions supporting ecosystem health are rarely addressed and other demographic groups rarely involved. As part of a project investigating seed predation and dispersal as ecosystem functions along an urban-rural gradient, we tested whether elementary school children can contribute to the project as citizen scientists. Specifically, we compared data estimating vegetation cover, measuring vegetation height and counting seeds from a seed removal experiment, that were collected by children and scientists in schoolyards. Children counted seeds similarly to scientists but under-or overestimated vegetation cover and measured different heights.We conclude that children can be involved as citizen scientists in research projects according to their skill level. However, more sophisticated tasks require specific training to become familiarized with scientific experiments and the development of needed skills and methods.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0143229
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 18.11.2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank all participating children, teachers, schools and the education authority in Hamburg and Lower Saxony. We are particularly grateful for the assistance given by Dr. Brunhild Landwehr for her very helpful didactical improvement of our environmental education concept and Felix Fornoff for many helpful discussions that improved the manuscript. Victoria L. Miczajka was supported through a PhD scholarship from the Leuphana University of Lüneburg and Gesine Pufal was financed by ProScience from the Leuphana University of Lüneburg. The article processing charge was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Albert Ludwigs University Freiburg in the funding programme Open Access Publishing. We also thank the editor and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions, which greatly improved the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Miczajka et al. 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.