What's that Yukon plant? Upload a pic to this app to get an answer

A Yukon plant expert says a smartphone app is helping gather citizen science.

Plant expert touts app as a way to contribute to citizen science

Lucy Johanson (left) shows CBC reporter Karen McColl how to use the iNaturalist app to record a plant sighting. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

Gone are the days of lugging around heavy field guides on hikes and canoe trips.

The Yukon Conservation Data Centre has produced several e-guides using an app called iNaturalist. The guides cover plants, animals and insects of certain regions in the territory.

The app also lets users post observations about their own sightings — and this potentially valuable information is collected by the data centre. 

'That's a Chamaerhodos erecta!'

Bruce Bennett, the centre's coordinator, receives a notification every time a post is made in the territory. He either offers the correct identification, or verifies the suggestions of others. 

Bruce Bennett, coordinator of Yukon's Conservation Data Centre, called himself an 'old school naturalist' for his affinity for paper field guides, but he thinks the iNaturalist app is a great way to collect data. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

"A visitor to the Yukon, they took a photo and said, 'What is this?'" he explained.  

The plant had no recognizable flowers and wouldn't be easily identified in a guidebook. But for Bennett, who has a world class herbarium in his basement, it was a piece of cake. 

"'Well, that's a Chamaerhodos erecta [species of rose]!"

The data Bennett and his team are most interested in collecting is about sightings of rare species, such as pika and wood chucks, as well as invasive species. 

"If you're driving along the road and you know we're looking for a number of invasive species, you can take a photos of a plant that you know is a problem."

When the user is back in cell phone range, the app automatically uploads the observation and the location it was made.

Karen McColl grabs a close up of a plant, later identified on the iNaturalist app as Northern Comandra (Bastard Toadflax). (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

'Get up close'

Lucy Johanson, the data centre's conservation technician, says the better the quality of the photos uploaded, the quicker the response from other users. 

"For something like a tree... you should get up close, take a picture of the bark, take a picture of the leaves."

Johanson developed the Yukon e-guides. They cover rare species of particular interest to the data centre, as well as the flora and fauna of Ivvavik National Park and Kluane National Park. 

Bennett says the data collected from the app can be used for land management and conservation planning.

INaturalist is run by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and the Royal Ontario Museum.

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