What determines spatial bias in citizen science? Exploring four recording schemes with different proficiency requirements

Aim To understand how the integration of contextual spatial data on land cover and human infrastructure can help reduce spatial bias in sampling effort, and improve the utilization of citizen science-based species recording schemes. By comparing four different citizen science projects, we explore how the sampling design’s complexity affects the role of these spatial biases. Location Denmark, Europe. Methods We used a point process model to estimate the effect of land cover and human infrastructure on the intensity of observations from four different citizen science species recording schemes. We then use these results to predict areas of under- and oversampling as well as relative biodiversity ‘hotspots’ and ‘deserts’, accounting for common spatial biases introduced in unstructured sampling designs. Results We demonstrate that the explanatory power of spatial biases such as infrastructure and human population density increased as the complexity of the sampling schemes decreased. Despite a low absolute sampling effort in agricultural landscapes, these areas still appeared oversampled compared to the observed species richness. Conversely, forests and grassland appeared undersampled despite higher absolute sampling efforts. We also present a novel and effective analytical approach to address spatial biases in unstructured sampling schemes and a new way to address such biases, when more structured sampling is not an option. Main conclusions We show that citizen science datasets, which rely on untrained amateurs, are more heavily prone to spatial biases from infrastructure and human population density. Objectives and protocols of mass-participating projects should thus be designed with this in mind. Our results suggest that, where contextual data is available, modelling the intensity of individual observation can help understand and quantify how spatial biases affect the observed biological patterns.