It is well known that the tiger mosquito is an invasive species living very close to us. Some people are even aware that it is a recent arrival to our shores from Asia and a carrier of diseases that have been eradicated in Europe (although isolated autochthonous cases have recently been reported).
In fact, just try bringing up the subject of the tiger mosquito and see what happens: people won't just raise an eyebrow, they will pitch in with their own stories. In a very short time, this mosquito has become a key species in scientific outreach in the field of the ecology of invasive species and public health: it is found close by, it is a nuisance, and with that scary name, it is also a popular topic in the media.
It was these characteristics that led the Movelab research group (CEAB-CSIC) to launch a pilot public outreach science project called Atrapa el Tigre! (Catch the Tiger!) under the umbrella of the Scientific Culture and Innovation Programme of the Fecyt (the Spanish Foundation of Science and Technology). Based on the popular awareness of the species and its presence in our environment, the aim is to involve the general public in the study of the tiger mosquito using new technologies. Starting this summer, the public can use a specially designed app called Tigatrapp to take part in the creation of the first collaborative web map of the distribution of the tiger mosquito in Catalonia, while at the same time providing useful data for the study of the insect’s spread. (The app is currently only available in Catalan and for Android smartphones and tablets.)
The project has started on a pilot basis with the organisation in the province of Girona of educational workshops that encourage children to get involved and also promote an interest in careers in science. This is an open project and everyone is welcome to participate. All that is required is an e-mail request to (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The aim is not only to obtain data of scientific and environmental interest, but also to proactively educate the public and promote patterns of behaviour that will reduce tiger mosquito populations in urban areas, thereby reducing the potential risk of viral disease transmission.
The project involves a complicated mechanism of citizen participation and its success will depend not only on us, but also on diverse factors, including technological and language barriers, the dynamics of communication, the social character of the population, the dizzying speed with which technologically advanced societies devour information. Nevertheless, we believe that the tiger mosquito is an excellent case study for implementing the concept of science outreach in society and citizen participation. In the not too far distant future, we hope to have effective citizen alert systems that will serve as a new public health management tool.
[This article was written with the collaboration of John Palmer and Frederic Bartumeus]