Can opportunistic citizen sightings assist in the monitoring of an elusive, crepuscular mammal in an urban environment?
Central to appropriate wildlife management is an effective monitoring program. Monitoring wildlife in urban environments offers unique challenges in the form of barriers, prohibited access and crime. It also, however, provides a unique opportunity to enlist residential communities in collecting data on distribution of a number of species. Opportunistic sightings data has its flaws, including the lack of data on species absences, and unequal sampling effort. Yet these data may still provide reliable information on the distribution of species and complement localized, hypothesis driven research. Where possible opportunistic sightings data should be validated against traditional methods to determine their value for long term monitoring programmes. We use Maxent to model citizen-reported sightings to determine whether sightings of Cape clawless otters (Aonyx capensis) can complement standardized river occupancy surveys to monitor an elusive, widely distributed species living within a fragmented urban/natural matrix. The drivers of otter presence and the predicted distribution of otters modelled from citizen sightings mirrored that provided by previously published results based on occupancy models in the same system, and highlighted further areas of suitable otter habitat and routes for dispersal. Involving citizens in the monitoring of the urban otter population complemented standardized occupancy surveys and provided additional benefits. In addition to alleviating the pressure on local authorities to allocate resources to routine monitoring, citizen involvement provides an opportunity to gather supplementary data on behaviour and/or threats to the species; shed light on the potential dispersal routes, and promote awareness and encourage coexistence with urban adapted wildlife.
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