Monitoring biological water quality by volunteers complements professional assessments

Peeters, Edwin T.H.M.; Gerritsen, Anton A.M.; Seelen, Laura M.S.; Begheyn, Matthijs; Rienks, Froukje; Teurlincx, Sven


Progressively more community initiatives have been undertaken over last decades to monitor water quality. Biological data collected by volunteers has been used for biodiversity and water quality studies. Despite the many citizen science projects collecting and using macroinvertebrates, the number of scientific peer-reviewed publications that use this data, remains limited. In 2018, a citizen science project on biological water quality assessment was launched in the Netherlands. In this project, volunteers collect macroinvertebrates from a nearby waterbody, identify and count the number of specimens, and register the catch through a web portal to instantaneously receive a water quality score based on their data. Water quality monitoring in the Netherlands is traditionally the field of professionals working at water authorities. Here, we compare the data from the citizen science project with the data gathered by professionals. We evaluate information regarding type and distribution of sampled waterbodies and sampling period, and compare general patterns in both datasets with respect to collected animals and calculated water quality scores. The results show that volunteers and professionals seldomly sample the same waterbody, that there is some overlap in sampling period, and that volunteers more frequently sampled urban waters and smaller waterbodies. The citizen science project is thus yielding data about understudied waters and this spatial and temporal complementarity is useful. The character and thoroughness of the assessments by volunteers and professionals are likely to differentiate. Volunteers collected significantly lower numbers of animals per sample and fewer animals from soft sediments like worms and more mobile individuals from the open water column such as boatsmen and beetles. Due to the lack of simultaneous observations at various locations by volunteers and professionals, a direct comparison of water quality scores is impossible. However, the obtained patterns from both datasets show that the water quality scores between volunteers and professionals are dissimilar for the different water types. To bridge these differences, new tools and processes need to be further developed to increase the value of monitoring biological water quality by volunteers for professionals.