Citizen Science Helps Predict Risk Of Emerging Infectious Disease

A picture of citizen scientists collecting data to track Sudden Oak Death

Citizen science with volunteered geographic information is playing a critical role in tracking and predicting the spread of Sudden Oak Death (SOD) disease according to new research published by Center researchers Ross K. Meentemeyer, Monica A. Dorning, and John B. Vogler and their UC Berkeley colleagues Doug Schmidt and Matteo Garbelotto.  SOD, caused by the generalist, invasive pathogen Phytophtora ramorum, has killed millions of oak and tanoak trees across coastal California and Oregon. Since 2008, the citizen science program called “SOD Blitz” has engaged, educated and trained over 1,600 volunteers to detect and locate the pathogen during peak windows of seasonal disease expression. These data have been used to generate increasingly accurate predictive maps of high risk areas that inform stakeholders where they should prioritize disease management efforts. The results, published in the May issue of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, demonstrate the meaningful contributions that citizen scientists can make to large-scale, long-term monitoring and spatial prediction of emerging infectious plant diseases. Related press and the journal article citation and abstract follow.

Predicting disease risk with citizen science

(a) Symptomatic leaves on the reservoir host, California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica), Santa Cruz County, CA. (b) Young citizen scientists locating and collecting symptomatic leaves with the aid of the SODmap mobile application, Alameda County, CA. (c) Cumulative infected (red) and uninfected (green) foliar samples collected PreBlitz and by citizen-science participants over the 6-year Blitz sampling period between 2008 and 2013. (d) Locations of PreBlitz and cumulative SOD Blitz samples by 2013 within the 11-county study extent. (a) and (b) Courtesy of M Garbelotto Lab, UC Berkeley.Press:

Trees turned to snags: “Sudden Oak Death” fells California oaks in their prime [National Science Foundation | May 1, 2015]

– Sudden Oak Death Path Predicted By Citizen Scientists [Science 2.0 | May 1, 2015]

– Citizen Science Helps Predict Risk of Emerging Infectious Disease [ | May 1, 2015]


Citation: Ross K Meentemeyer, Monica A Dorning, John B Vogler, Douglas Schmidt, and Matteo Garbelotto 2015. Citizen science helps predict risk of emerging infectious disease. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 13(4): 189–194.

Abstract: Engaging citizen scientists is becoming an increasingly popular technique for collecting large amounts of ecological data while also creating an avenue for outreach and public support for research. Here we describe a unique study, in which citizen scientists played a key role in the spatial prediction of an emerging infectious disease. The yearly citizen-science program called “Sudden Oak Death (SOD) Blitz” engages and educates volunteers in detecting the causal pathogen during peak windows of seasonal disease expression. We used these data – many of which were collected from under-sampled urban ecosystems – to develop predictive maps of disease risk and to inform stakeholders on where they should prioritize management efforts. We found that continuing the SOD Blitz program over 6 consecutive years improved our understanding of disease dynamics and increased the accuracy of our predictive models. We also found that self-identified non-professionals were just as capable of detecting the disease as were professionals. Our results indicate that using long-term citizen-science data to predict the risk of emerging infectious plant diseases in urban ecosystems holds substantial promise.