Invertebrates in general and insects in particular often cause a feeling of repulsion, and people are frequently unaware of their extremely important role in nature. The National Centre of Forest Biodiversity ‘Bosco Fontana’ of the Italian National Forest Service started the first ever Citizen Science project in Italy involving the public in monitoring rare and endangered insects. This project, supported by the EU LIFE fund, is designed for children and adults with the aim of raising their awareness about the importance of preserving old-growth forests and the invertebrates they host. Public participation in ecological studies has recently become a pillar of research on biodiversity and conservation. This Citizen Science initiative aimed at mapping the distribution of invertebrates has the potential to fill gaps left by traditional scientific approaches.
Via a web and smartphone application, citizens are involved in the collection of data on nine rare insect species, the five saproxylic beetle species: Osmoderma eremita, Lucanus cervus, Cerambyx cerdo, Rosalia alpine and Morimus asper/funereus, plus the butterflies Zerynthia polyxena, Parnassius apollo and Lopinga achine, and the grasshopper Saga pedo.
So far, 980 insect records have been collected by 304 citizens. Involvement of the public also helps to disseminate a strong message about the importance of preserving old-growth forests. Communication activities were also carried out at local and national scale, with public seminars, educational projects in schools, social media activities, press releases, radio and TV broadcasts, brochures and booklets and comic strips. The number of people involved increased more than twofold between the first and second year. However, humans are not the only citizens involved in the project. The personal engagement of ‘Osmodog’, the first Italian dog trained to find the hermit beetle Osmoderma eremita using its nose, has proved to have both scientific and communication benefits! The project is taking place in five protected areas included in the Italian Natura 2000 network and managed by the National Forest Service.