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Pathogen hunters: non-scientist engagement in plant disease research

Joseph Hulbert: Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute, University of Pretoria

<div>Cape Citizen Science (<a href=""></a>) is a plant disease awareness initiative in South Africa. The pilot study was designed to reveal the diversity and distribution of <em>Phytophthora </em>species in the Cape Floral Kingdom. The project has engaged many non-scientists as pathogen hunters and samples have been submitted from several plant producers, botanical gardens, nature reserves, and national parks. Citizen engagement activities have revealed the presence of multiple species of <em>Phytophthora</em> previously undocumented in South Africa and they have facilitated the discovery of at least one novel species. The most recent phase of the project invited citizens to participate in The Cape Town Hypothesis Test, a study designed to promote the early detection of <em>Phytophthora </em>species introductions in urban areas of Cape Town. This pilot study has pioneered the application of several methods of public engagement in plant disease research. Citizens have submitted samples from their home gardens, invited researchers to collect samples on private property, participated in hikes for science and training workshops and they have reported dying plants online. The project has also revealed an abundance of opportunities to involve non-scientists in important microbiological research. Based on our experiences, we recommend establishing similar initiatives to Cape Citizen Science in other parts of the world.</div>