Whether you are enjoying a family day at the beach or a hike through the woods, the pictures you take not only document your memories, but they also capture observations in nature. The relatively new website, iNaturalist, creates a forum for the public to be able to share those photos as a living record of our environment.
iNaturalist works in three different ways. You can post your own observations by creating a free account and uploading a picture of a beautiful patch of wildflowers or a type of bird you have never seen before. Other users can then comment on your photo and also help you identify the species you observed. You can also use the site to explore your neighborhood, community, or state by using the map to see where recent observations have been made or search by species to view the beautiful and strange creatures captured on camera. Lastly, you can create or join a project to pool your observations with others and help land managers and scientists track changes in biodiversity.
iNaturalist differs from other recent web-based resources out of the University of California to collect natural resource data from the public because it functions as a place for the public to learn about the environment around them through a collaborative social platform. It is also different in its environmental application since it does not focus specifically on invasive species, such as UC Berkeley’s Oakmapper and UCLA’s What’s Invasive, but all species of plant and wildlife.
First conceived as the Master's final project of Nate Agrin, Jessica Kline, and Ken-ichi Ueda at UC Berkeley's School of Information, iNaturalist was established in 2008. Currently Ken-ichi maintains the site in collaboration with Scott Loarie, a climate change researcher at the Carnegie Institution. An iphone app hit stores this past February so people can make photo observations on the go and upload pictures they take on their phone directly to the site.
“Having an app is important,” Ken-ichi notes. “We’re such a good platform for citizen science monitoring efforts and the app definitely enhances this ability.”
Two projects that stand out with regular contributors include the Pepperwood Monitoring Project on the Pepperwood Preserve and the Jasper Ridge Preserve Project on the Jasper Ridge Biological Reserve, both of which focus on tracking plant and animal data on their properties.
Currently the site has just under 1,000 registered users with an average of 100 to 150 unique users entering the site everyday and over 13,600 observations. So no matter if environmental science is your professional field, your passion, or you need help identifying the weeds that keep growing in your yard, iNaturalist is a helpful learning tool.
For more information or to join iNaturalist, please visit inaturalist.org. The iNaturalist app can be downloaded for free from the iTunes app store.