New study shows potential for Twitter mining for the study of animal behaviours

Dr Matt Reed

CCRI’s Matt Reed took part in a study and co-authored a paper which has been published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution, a publication of the British Ecological Society, which is free to access online.

The study trawled postings by the public on the micro-blogging site, Twitter,  to see if they accurately reflected some popular ecological phenomena in the UK. Whilst retrospective analysis of social media posts has been used in seismology, political science and public risk perception studies, it has not been used extensively in ecological research.

The paper, entitled ‘Testing the potential of Twitter mining methods for data acquisition: Evaluating novel opportunities for ecological research in multiple taxa’, explains how “Twitter mining” methods were used to search Twitter for terms relevant to three nationwide UK ecological phenomena: winged ant emergence; autumnal house spider sightings; and starling murmurations  The research demonstrated that Twitter-mined information can replicate robust data gathered in other ways and concluded that Twitter mining has great potential to become a very useful resource in the study of certain animal behaviours. However, the study also highlighted that care is needed in using this type of information source as  Twitter users have the option of geo-tagging all their posts, but many choose not to do this. Therefore, important data can often be missing, such as location.

The paper was authored by Adam G. Hart, William S. Carpenter, Estelle Hlustik‐Smith, Matt Reed and Anne E. Goodenough.

The study has been reported in the Science Daily,  BBC news, Smithsonian and the science magazine, Cosmos.