How wildlife snapshots can map biodiversity
iNaturalist is an app that allows naturalists and hobbyists to record and share their observations from nature, and then tries to identify the plant or animal. Users simply take a picture of it and upload it to iNaturalist.
The app helps users identify their plant or animal observations using a combination of what iNaturalist calls crowdsourcing, along with their system of species identification through computer vision.
You can then further submit that finding and the location to the iNaturalist community for a more definitive identification, and to discuss your findings.
iNaturalist began as the final project for some master's students at UC Berkeley's School of Information in 2008. In 2014, it became an initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and now they've joined forces with the National Geographic Society.
By sharing their observations, iNaturalist users are also generating valuable scientific data.
Scott Loarie is the Co-Director of iNaturalist and a scientist with the California Academy of Sciences. "From my perspective as a scientist, you're also creating a data point and that data point is very similar to the kinds of data points that museums have been collecting for hundreds of years," Loarie told Spark host Nora Young. "And that's kind of the bread and butter of what the conservation community uses to help manage our natural ecosystems."
The project demonstrates the value of citizen science as a tool for scaling up data collection. Their data set is gigantic. The iNaturalist community has logged over 10 million observations, as the community has grown and expanded all over the world. That data can help naturalists and scientists track changes in the environment and lead to new discoveries.
Loarie said it helps that iNaturalist has developed a global network. For example, the local partners for the Canadian node of iNaturalist include the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the Royal Ontario Museum, and NatureServe Canada.
While Loarie emphasizes the scientific value of iNaturalist, he believes its real strength comes from its community, who he sees as a global community of environmental stewards. "It's just powered by people outside exploring their backyards, but we're bringing the natural world into focus in exciting new ways," added Loarie.
Spark host Nora Young saw this caterpillar on a September walk by the shores of Lake Ontario. If you know what it is, let us know in the comments below!