The Species Observation System, a citizen science system, is an online service where anyone can register observations of species in Norway. The system was launched by the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre in 2008, with remarkable success. The 10 millionth bird observation was recorded on October 5th, and the total number of records of all other species groups are 1,4 million records in November 2014!

The Species Observation system is a huge public volunteer-based effort to collect information about species occurrences in Norway. The service allows “amateur naturalists”, , consulting companies and management agencies to make a contribution to the greater good by increasing our knowledge of species in Norway, and their occurrences. The system is also used for reporting the results of public surveys conducted by land managers or consulting companies, and demonstrates how public participation and ‘citizen science’ through sound systems, can give great results.

On February10th 2014, observation no. 10 million was added to the Species Observation System. The record was a ‘Star-headed liverwort’, reported from Kongsvoll by Henrik Weibull from Sweden (read more in the box to the right). Already in October 5th bird sighting no. 10 million, a ‘Great spotted woodpecker’ female, was reported by Odd Helge Tunheim at Sandnes in Rogaland. Tunheim, a biology student at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, gives the following challenge to the 8500 active users of the system.

“It's tempting to simply report rare species or species not seen before on a site. This is all well and good, but to secure that the Species Observations System is as good source as possible for management and science, it is also important to report all the common species as well. Then over time we get a more comprehensive picture of the diversity of species in Norway.”

“The efforts by individuals have exceeded all expectations we had when we launched the Species Observation System. We applaud all of the keen naturalists who have collectively contributed all this important field work,” says Ivar Myklebust, Director of the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre.

An average of 5000 observations are added to the Species Observation reporting system daily, and more than 11 million reported observations make it the largest species database in Norway.

“We are working systematically to increase our knowledge of species in Norway. The ability of anyone to contribute to the general good by posting their finds of species – the Species Observation System – started in 2008. I think it’s impressive and very gratifying that after only six years, we are already seeing amazing results from this public volunteer-based effort to learn more about biodiversity in Norway. It’s yet another example of how important volunteer efforts are to our society,” says the Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment, Tine Sundtoft.

A well-functioning reporting system

The Species Observation System was launched in 2008 by Erik Solheim, who was the Minister of Environment at the time. The goal of the reporting system was to provide knowledgeable people in Norway with an opportunity to contribute their knowledge about species to help document biodiversity in Norway.

“That goal has been reached,” says Nils Valland, senior advisor at the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre who was central in establishing the service. “One of our criteria for success is that the system promotes self-policing and follow-up among contributors.  Because these reports are validated by knowledgeable individuals, we can use the data we collect for scientific and resource management purposes.”

An important prerequisite for ensuring that the observations are of high quality is that skilled professionals from SABIMA (the Norwegian Biodiversity Network) control sightings of red-listed species. SABIMA has partnered with the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre to operate the Species Observation System.

From grassroots to management

The Species Observation System is one of the source databases for the Species Map Service, a system that contains most of the digital georeferenced information on the presence of species in Norway. The Species Map Service is an important tool for natural resource management at national, regional and local level, including forestry, transport and energy authorities. It is also increasingly used by researchers and private users, like industry. In other words, results from the Species Observation System have become an important component of the knowledge base used in natural resource management in Norway. Without the commitment and fieldwork of volunteer contributors, the Species Map Service would have had many blank spots on its maps.

Field diaries, photo collections and discussion forums

In addition to providing a database that benefits society, the Species Observation System is used as a digital field diary by many to document their observations with photos. Uncertain findings and observations of rare species also tend to spark discussions between active users.

“We see that the Species Observation System has made it easier for naturalists to document what they find and share it with others,” says Valland.

The Species Observation reporting system is  ‘Citizen science’

‘Citizen science’ is a collective term for volunteer amateur efforts that benefit society, and is recognized worldwide as a useful tool for expanding our knowledge of species, astronomy, meteorology and the development of modern technology. The term means that volunteers and amateurs contribute their knowledge and resources to the scientific community. The work done by these volunteers is often an important contribution to science, and many ‘amateurs’ are as knowledgeable as ‘experts’.

About the Species Observation System

The Species Observation reporting system was started in May 2008 and has seen an amazing increase in reported findings and observations. The service currently has 8500 rapporteurs, who post an average of 5000 observations every day. The current number of records is 11,5 million (November 2014). The system is operated by the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre in collaboration with SABIMA (the Norwegian Biodiversity Network), where qualified members of the associations are responsible for the quality control of observations of red-listed species. SABIMA is an umbrella organization for the Norwegian Ornithological Society, the Norwegian Botanical Society, the Norwegian Entomological Society, the Norwegian Zoological Society the Norwegian Fungi and Useful Plants Federation.

The 10 millionth observation!

Observation number 10 million in the Species Observation System was the Star-headed liverwort (Marchantia polymorpha ssp. Montivagans), found in Kongsvoll in Oppdal Municipality, in Sør-Trøndelag County. The observation was reported by Henrik Weibull. The Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre congratulates him! 


Nils Valland, Artsdatabanken

Telefon: +47 918 97 750 (work)
Telefon: +47 92 41 20 37 (private)