iNaturalist – Connecting People to Nature Crowdsourcing Technology + Biodiversity

ipadinaturalistFirst of all, Happy New Year! Looking for a fresh start, something exciting, meaningful, outdoorsy, active and biologically significant? Here’s a helpful hint. The iNaturalist app offers an innovative way to explore the natural living world around you, photograph or record species and share the info with a global community of nature lovers, wildlife biologists and other citizen scientists. We immersed ourselves into the fun last month and it’s been a blast! We’re excited about sharing our experience with you and invite you to tag along for an inspiring iNaturalist outing that’s certain to grab your attention.

Explore, Share and Connect

Computer-mediated technologies are constantly evolving. For some folks, staying connected with social media means staying connected with life. We receive daily news, monitor our health, pay bills, communicate with others and navigate city routes conveniently with our mobile devices and computers. There are more than 2.3 billion social media users around the globe according to an extensive report published last year by We Are Social. Digital in 2016 reported that more than half of these users are active social users.

Outdoor enthusiasts may be a niche social network but there’s plenty of technology geared toward this market. You name the activity, and there is sure to be an app specifically designed for it — everything from hiking, birding, and geocaching to survival guides, park finders and sky mapping. While some of these may be used recreationally or for the casual user, application software developers are designing mobile friendly apps and crowdsourcing technology that are assisting in global research.

“If enough people recorded their observations, it would be like a living record of life on Earth that scientists and land managers could use to monitor changes in biodiversity, and that anyone could use to learn more about nature.” – iNaturalist

Nature by the Numbers

iNaturalist is an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature. The primary purpose of the crowdsourced species identification system is to connect people to nature. Their secondary goal is to generate scientifically valuable biodiversity data from personal encounters with the natural world by citizen scientists – from bird watchers and beachcombers, to hikers and students. iNaturalist surmises, “If enough people recorded their observations, it would be like a living record of life on Earth that scientists and land managers could use to monitor changes in biodiversity, and that anyone could use to learn more about nature.” To date, there has been nearly 10,000 species reported by nearly 83,000 observers and iNat currently has logged more than 3 million observations.

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Field Testing the App

After you have installed the iNat app to your device you can set up your profile, select projects or guides, subscribe to various taxonomic groups or place and then get started. Once you begin exploring the outdoors and observe a species, simply open the iNat app, tap the “observe” icon, take a photo or two and click on the “Add” button. Can you identify the subject? If not, click on the “Help Me ID This Species.”

Take a few notes about your observation then let iNat “fetch” your location. You may share the observation with other featured or nearby projects then save your observation. That’s when the fun begins as the iNat community shares info about ID suggestions, confirmation on species, etc.

iNat users can review their observations in a number of ways. Personally, I like the “explore” option that allows a birds eye view of all of your observations on GOOGLE Maps and color-codes them into various types of organisms. An interesting “News” tab allows the iNat community access to observations of the week, articles, tips and tutorials on how to get the most out of your efforts.

Connections to Nature

iNaturalist hopes to create extensive community awareness of local biodiversity and promote further exploration of local environments. This sounds like a great “hands on” tool for teachers, environmental education centers and outdoor learning labs wishing to expand their programs. Regardless if you’re a student, local birdwatcher, or a retiree looking for a quality outdoor learning experience, iNat encourages participants to get outside, explore and discover new things about their local community. These connections to nature help foster awareness about the natural world around us.

Get Involved

There are several citizen science research projects that are currently being conducted in our region. Sentinels of the Sounds is a survey based data collection project that is documenting cypress trees in the region of the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds. The project organizers want to collect photos and locations of these trees in the water to help understand how the shores of the sounds are changing.

Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership (APNEP) is collecting observations of plants and animals found in the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine Region. The mission of the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership (APNEP) is to identify, protect, and restore the significant resources of the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system. Adding observations to the project helps preserve NC’s natural resources by filling in gaps in species data collection.

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Connecting Corridors ultimate mission is to connect people to unique places, experiences and adventures along the Albemarle Sound. Our participation in iNaturalist has been extremely rewarding. Learning is a lifelong endeavor and focusing on various regional projects has inspired us to key out various plants, dig a little deeper into identifying native species, and collaborate with other participants. I personally feel a certain sense of satisfaction when my observations and data collections transition from casual grade, to confirmation of ID and in most cases, to research grade. To date, over half the observations made on the iNat’s site have been upgraded to research grade. According to iNaturalist, “This allows scientists worldwide to use big data to better understand the distributions of species, especially as human impacts, such as climate change and habitat destruction.”

Our own Connecting Corridors project will be discovering and documenting the flora and fauna of the region. The Albemarle Sound is one of the largest estuaries on the Atlantic Coast. Our guide is a collection of casual observations and field reports noted while hiking, fishing, paddling, boating, bird watching and cycling in the region where land and water emerges. So start the year off right. Get outdoors and stay connected!

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