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Can Field Crews Telecommute? Varied Data Quality from Citizen Science Tree Inventories Conducted Using Street-Level Imagery

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Berland, Adam ; Roman, Lara A.; Vogt, Jess

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Street tree inventories are a critical component of urban forest management. However, inventories conducted in the field by trained professionals are expensive and time-consuming. Inventories relying on citizen scientists or virtual surveys conducted remotely using street-level photographs may greatly reduce the costs of street tree inventories, but there are fundamental uncertainties regarding the level of data quality that can be expected from these emerging approaches to data collection. We asked 16 volunteers to inventory street trees in suburban Chicago using Google Street ViewTM imagery, and we assessed data quality by comparing their virtual survey data to field data from the same locations. We also compared virtual survey data quality according to self-rated expertise by measuring agreement within expert, intermediate, and novice analyst groups. Analyst agreement was very good for the number of trees on each street segment, and agreement was markedly lower for tree diameter class and tree identification at the genus and species levels, respectively. Interrater agreement varied by expertise, such that experts agreed with one another more often than novices for all four variables assessed. Compared to the field data, we observed substantial variability in analyst performance for diameter class estimation and tree identification, and some intermediate analysts performed as well as experts. Our findings suggest that virtual surveys may be useful for documenting the locations of street trees within a city more eciently than field crews and with a high level of accuracy. However, tree diameter and species identification data were less reliable across all expertise groups, and especially novice analysts. Based on this analysis, virtual street tree inventories are best suited to collecting very basic information such as tree locations, or updating existing inventories to determine where trees have been planted or removed. We conclude with evidence-based recommendations for e ective implementation of this type of approach.


crowdsourced data; Google Street View; interrater agreement; municipal forestry; species identification; street trees; tree measurement; urban ecology; urban forestry


Berland, Adam; Roman, Lara A.; Vogt, Jess. 2019. Can Field Crews Telecommute? Varied Data Quality from Citizen Science Tree Inventories Conducted Using Street-Level Imagery. Forests. 10(4): 349. 18 p.

Last updated on: September 26, 2019