Today’s blog comes from Tim Tully, Discovery Coordinator at Awenda Provincial Park.
That is the question.
After decades of doing things a certain way, can I rally the forces of change and adopt a new way of recording species data? Should I submit species data to iNaturalist or not?
I decided to investigate empirically in an unbiased scientific manner. Specifically, what’s all the fuss about iNaturalist about?
This is what I discovered….
What is this application about?
It is literally a “virtual” conservation revolution, an application that allows you to easily collect species records by sending a photograph. Anyone can do it, anywhere on the planet.
If you have a mobile phone, one photo click (is it really a click?) and you have done your part for conservation. Take a picture of any species you find and easily upload it to the iNaturalist app, which just so happens to record a GPS location for your sighting.
Why use it?
The iNaturalist app is approved by leading conservation organizations around the world, including Ontario parks, and conservation managers and scientists are using data collected at a critical time in Earth’s living history.
The biodiversity of the planet is now everyone’s business.
It’s a data spectacle!
What were once mere hundreds of species records, recorded by a handful of fellow geeks, naturalists and biologists, are now a citizen science bonanza of hundreds of thousands of records.
Screenshot of Awenda in the iNaturalist app. Look at all the observations!
Just a few years ago, species identification required a methodical and meticulous process:
- find and identify a species in the field with guides (imagine: real books!)
- taking a photograph
- register a location
- document the written record
Now it’s a simple matter of a touchscreen button “clicking.”
It doesn’t even matter if you don’t know what you’ve photographed
The online community of experts and hobbyists will often evaluate the actual species they have seen and contact you to confirm a positive “scientific grade” identification, often within minutes!
Example of identification without ID. You will be identified shortly by another user!
Additionally, algorithmic recognition software with geographic intelligence can narrow down similar species and “suggest” a compatible species for consideration.
I’ve been observing younger park naturalists who have enthusiastically (and competitively!) embraced new technology. A host of new park records, particularly for lesser-known groups like insects, have appeared on screen.
New virtual checklists are forming, all at your fingertips. You can access species information from anywhere, or in our case, from any provincial park.
So what have I been waiting for?
I took my first photo for iNaturalist. My first image was intentionally of a group of plants, goldenrods, for which there are multiple confusingly similar species.
I cannot visually identify plants and species without spending time answering questions in a “key” guide that describes the characteristics and discusses the differences that define them.
Bluestemmed goldenrod (Solidago caesia L.)
We don’t have cell service on the course, so I would have to upload the image when I got back to the park. But I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t leave him unidentified. I wanted to learn more.
He had brought John Semple’s book. Ontario Goldenrods. Semple spent a botanical career studying goldenrods and asters, and developed a binomial key to help geeks like me learn more about this group of species that he obviously cared deeply about.
large-leaved aster (Macrophilous aster)
I realized that I liked the “laborious” and sometimes frustrating identification process. I learn something new every time I tear into the spine of an identification guide. Sitting on a sun-drenched sandy hillside in the quiet bliss of autumn, I spent a luxurious 10 minutes with a species whose name I didn’t know.
So many well-used field guides! They never disappoint me every time I open one.
I made comparative observations in the book and used critical thinking to discover the species in question. Its height: 40 cm. Spatulate-ovate to oblanceolate leaves (go ahead and brighten my naturalistic day; look up the meaning of the terms!). Showy yellow disc florets and ray petals. Greenish gray stem with tiny, dense hairs found in an open sandy habitat.
As a naturalist, there is nothing more enjoyable than the process of learning and discovery.
Aster in panic (Aster lanceolate)
Throughout my career I have had a personal credo of not telling department naturalists the name of a species if they ask me until they have spent time trying to identify it themselves.
I often frustrated them, but I didn’t believe in the instant gratification of identification because I knew the chance of that budding naturalist remembering the species name was slim to none, and it would have deprived them of a valuable learning opportunity and experience. with which to interact. that species.
So maybe you can’t “teach” a cantankerous old naturalist a new trick. However, you can convince him of the merits of an easy-to-use curation tool that offers a wealth of data with practical applications.
Purple-stemmed aster (pink aster)
I admit that for some, in this overly saturated digital world, iNaturalist may be the open door to an outdoor environment and learning about natural history.
For me, the grizzled naturalist, I am reluctantly moving down the technological highway. I’d say there’s room for both an identification guide and a cell phone on your naturalist trip.
But don’t expect it to tell you what species it is without asking you to try to identify it yourself… even if you use an online app.