Social media has become a treasure trove for species researchers: a German-Australian team of scientists recently discovered four out of six new carnivorous plants not during field research in Western Australia, but on Facebook and Instagram
Such data, often published accidentally, sometimes intentionally, by hobby photographers and citizen scientists have become a valuable source for biodiversity researchers. And therefore of great importance for the protection of many animal and plant species, emphasized Andreas Fleischmann from the Munich State Botanical Collection and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. "In particular, it would not have been possible for us to determine the distribution areas of very rare species without this additional wealth of data."
Researchers on a race against time
He and his team had described six previously unknown carnivorous sundew species found in Western Australia and published the results of the investigations in the journal Biology. So far, only three species from the so-called Drosera microphylla species complex were known.
Although many species are becoming extinct worldwide in the 21st century, new animal and plant species are still being discovered. "A race against time," emphasized the scientists. Without the intensive work of species researchers, "many creatures would become extinct without ever having been known before".
In the meantime, there is far more observation data from lay scientists in social media and even in scientific biodiversity databases than data from research collections, especially for the visually conspicuous carnivorous plants, according to a statement from the state collection on the study. For example, a sundew species from South Africa was known from three historical herbarium specimens and seven photos on a Citizen Science website in 2018. Today there are already 307 observations from 131 hobby researchers interested in nature on the internet platform. "Meanwhile, the number of known herbarium specimens of sundew from South Africa in the natural science collections has remained the same."