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Validity of historical volunteered geographic information: Evaluating citizen data for mapping historical geographic phenomena

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Transactions in GIS

Published online on


Studies on volunteered geographic information (VGI) have focused on examining its validity to reveal geographic phenomena in relatively recent periods. Empirical evaluation of the validity of VGI to reveal geographic phenomena in historical periods (e.g., decades ago) is lacking, although such evaluation is desirable for assessing the possibility of broadening the temporal scope of VGI applications. This article presents an evaluation of the validity of VGI to reveal historical geographic phenomena through a citizen data‐based habitat suitability mapping case study. Citizen data (i.e., sightings) of the black‐and‐white snub‐nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti) were elicited from local residents through three‐dimensional (3D) geovisualization interviews in Yunnan, China. The validity of the elicited sightings to reveal the historical R. bieti distribution was evaluated through habitat suitability mapping using the citizen data in historical periods. The results of controlled experiments demonstrated that suitability maps predicted using the historical citizen data had a consistent spatial pattern (correlation above 0.60) that reflects the R. bieti distribution (Boyce index around 0.90) in areas free of significant environmental change across historical periods. This in turn suggests that citizen data have validity for mapping historical geographic phenomena. It provides supporting empirical evidence for potentially broadening the temporal scope of VGI applications.