Comparing diversity data collected using a protocol designed for volunteers with results from a professional alternative

In light of the continuing biodiversity crisis, the need for high-resolution, broad-scale ecological data is particularly acute. The expansive scale of volunteer data collection programmes provides an opportunity to address this challenge, however, protocols used to collect such data are typically less standardized than those used by professional scientists. Although previous studies have established that different protocols can lead to different results, it remains unclear how relevant these differences are to specific study goals, such as biodiversity assessment. This study uses both null model and Bayesian occupancy approaches to examine the capacity of a widely used volunteer survey protocol, the roving diver transect, to detect patterns of marine fish diversity. Richness estimates are compared with those obtained using the conventional belt transects favoured in many peer reviewed studies, examining the power of both protocols to detect statistically significant differences between survey sites and quantifying differences in detectability. Pairwise site comparisons of a-diversity (i.e. within site diversity) were consistent between protocols, particularly for species totals. The roving diver transect protocol detected a substantially larger number of species than the belt transect protocol, due to notably higher detectability, even after controlling for confounding factors. Both protocols detected the same species pool, although the species richness among observations was higher for the belt protocol at certain sites. The significance of pairwise site -diversity (i.e. differentiation between sites) comparisons differed between the protocols and care should be exercised, when using either protocol, when studying variation in species composition. These results provide vital information for managers and researchers considering the use of volunteer data or protocols for the purpose of biodiversity assessment in aquatic systems, helping to quantify the value of thousands of existing survey records. The larger number of species detected by the volunteer protocol suggests this protocol may be advantageous with regards to the completion of taxonomic lists.