Missouri Botanical Garden Open Conference Systems, TDWG 2014 ANNUAL CONFERENCE

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CyberTracker and Citizen Science
Louis Wilhelm Liebenberg, Justin Steventon

Building: Elmia Congress Centre, Jönköping
Room: Rydbergsalen
Date: 2014-10-30 11:00 AM – 11:15 AM
Last modified: 2014-10-03


CyberTracker has grown from a simple hypothesis: The art of tracking may have been the origin of science. If this is the case, then modern-day trackers should be able to do science. However, the best trackers in Africa cannot read or write. To overcome this problem, the CyberTracker software was developed in 1996 with an icon-based user interface for a PDA connected to a GPS. This enabled trackers to record complex geo-referenced data on animal behaviour.


Releasing CyberTracker as Freeware resulted in a proliferation of projects worldwide. Over the years CyberTracker has been upgraded from the Apple Newton to the PalmPilot, Windows CE, Windows Mobile and now Android Smartphones. It requires no programming skills to develop a data capture Application and no GIS skills to analyse and view the data in tables and maps.


From its origins with the Kalahari Bushmen, CyberTracker projects have been initiated to monitor gorillas in the Congo, snow leopards in the Himalayas, butterflies in Switzerland, the Sumatran rhino in Borneo, jaguars in Costa Rica, birds in the Amazon, wild horses in Mongolia, dolphins in California, marine turtles in the Pacific and whales in Antarctica. CyberTracker is being used by indigenous communities, in national parks, scientific research, citizen science, environmental education, forestry, farming, social surveys, health surveys, crime prevention and disaster relief.


CyberTracker has also given birth to projects like NatureTracker, BioKIDS, I-Tracker and other initiatives that followed our example.


CyberTracker software has been downloaded more than 80 000 times from more than 210 countries. Most projects are small-scale initiatives. Some large projects like the Kruger National Park in South Africa have been using CyberTracker since 2000 and include over 1.97 million records collected between 2004 and 2006, but have been inconsistent due to challenging managerial problems.


CyberTracker projects involve bottom-up self-defined independent initiatives, resulting in rich, diverse data. CyberTracker enables users to export their data to the Darwin Core format. Many users are, however, simply unaware of the necessary requirements. Valuable biodiversity data may therefore never be submitted to GBIF and may even be lost.


A major shortcoming of CyberTracker is that it does not provide a web back end and it is difficult to push data to GBIF – a problem we would like to address if we can secure funding.


One solution may be to create pre-existing data templates containing the minimum requirements of the Darwin Core, which users can extend to fulfil their own data collection needs. Another solution may be to provide users with a free Dropbox-like facility where all CyberTracker data can be shared on an open-access basis. This may enable us to monitor rare species from scarce data that may not have been anticipated by more structured programs.


Our ultimate vision is that smart phone users worldwide will use CyberTracker to capture observations on a daily basis. Data streaming into the Cloud will make it possible to visualise changes in the global ecosystem in real time.