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Harnessing local ecological knowledge for conservation decision making via Wisdom of Crowds: the case of the Manus green tree snail Papustyla pulcherrima

  • Nathan Whitmore (a1)

The shell of the Manus green tree snail Papustyla pulcherrima is renowned for its beauty and is subject to international protection under CITES, having been harvested intensively in the past. To determine its threat status, and whether further conservation action is justified, an inexpensive Wisdom of Crowds approach was used to estimate the change in relative density of the snail between 1998 and 2013. Local men and women were approached around the main market on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, and asked to map the relative abundance of the snail on an ordinal scale, based on their personal observations in 2013 and 1998 (a year of cultural significance). The spatial abundance data from 400 surveys were analysed using an information-theoretic approach. A suite of cumulative link models incorporating geographical factors was used to determine the magnitude of the change and to investigate possible biological influences underpinning the reported pattern. High abundance of the snail was associated with intact forested areas, high elevation and low population density. A slow decline was evident, with the median percentage of map cells where the snail was categorized as plentiful decreasing by c. 20% between the 2 years. On this basis a categorization of Near Threatened was advocated for the species. Although it is arguable that Wisdom of Crowds methods cannot be substituted for in situ quantification, the approach appears to have utility as a preliminary assessment for further conservation expenditure, and as a tool for determining threat status.

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