Locating species range frontiers: A cost and efficiency comparison of citizen science and hair-tube survey methods for use in tracking an invasive squirrel

Emily A. Goldstein, Colin Lawton, Emma Sheehy, Fidelma Butler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Context Improved knowledge of changing species distributions is critically important for conservation managers in the face of increasing species invasions, habitat disturbance and climate change. Efficient monitoring of the location of advancing species invasion frontiers is especially crucial for effective species community and habitat management. Aims To compare the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of two survey methods, a citizen science survey and a traditional hair-tube survey, in their abilities to locate the current southern invasion frontier of grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) in Ireland. Methods In the citizen science survey, we collected sighting reports of the grey squirrel and its native congener, the red squirrel (S. vulgaris), from the geographic region of the invasion frontier from untrained members of the public over a 2-year period. Hair-tube surveys were carried out in 14 woodlands (≥30ha) in the same geographic area to test the ability of this indirect field method to identify colonising grey squirrel populations. The costs, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of each method were compared. Key results The citizen science sighting reports resulted in the clear delineation of the southern frontier of the zone invaded by the grey squirrel. The hair-tube survey ascertained the presence of grey squirrels in 4 of 14 sites, but did not detect this species close to the invasion frontier defined by the citizen science survey. Even though the total cost of the citizen science survey was higher, it was more cost-effective and efficient on a per detection basis for the purposes of detecting the presence of grey and red squirrels. Conclusions The citizen science survey detected invasive squirrels in sites where the hair-tube survey did not. As such, the citizen science survey provided a more comprehensive snapshot of the location of the grey squirrel invasion frontier more efficiently and cost-effectively than did traditional field techniques. Implications In the face of increasing ecological and economic costs of biological invasions, we recommend straightforward citizen science surveys, over indirect field surveys, to managers and researchers seeking to efficiently track progressing invasions of readily observable animals cost-effectively.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-75
Number of pages12
JournalWildlife Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


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