Ethical dilemmas when using citizen science for early detection of invasive tree pests and diseases

Michael J.O. Pocock, Mariella Marzano, Erin Bullas-Appleton, Alison Dyke, Maarten de Groot, Craig M. Shuttleworth, Rehema White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The early detection of tree health pests and disease is an important component of
biosecurity to protect the aesthetic, recreational and economic importance of trees,
woodlands and forestry. Citizen science is valuable in supporting the early detection
of tree pests and diseases. Different stakeholders (government, business, society
and individual) will vary in their opinion of the balance between costs and benefits
of early detection and consequent management, partly because many costs are local
whereas benefits are felt at larger scales. This can create clashes in motivations of
those involved in citizen science, thus leading to ethical dilemmas about what is
good and responsible conduct for the use of citizen science. We draw on our experience
of tree health citizen science to exemplify five dilemmas. These dilemmas arise
because: the consequences of detection may locally be severe (e.g. the destruction
of trees); knowledge of these impacts could lead to refusal to make citizen science
reports; citizen science reports can be made freely, but can be costly to respond to;
participants may expect solutions even if these are not possible; and early detection
is (by definition) a rare event. Effective engagement and dialogue across stakeholders,
including public stakeholders, is important to properly address these issues. This is
vital to ensure the public’s long-term support for and trust in the use of citizen
science for the early detection of tree pests and diseases.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)720-732
Number of pages12
JournalManagement of Biological Invasions
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

© Pocock et al.


  • alien species
  • participatory research
  • volunteer
  • eradication

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