The iNaturalist app, developed by iNaturalist.org, allows users to photograph various species in nature, log them, and then contribute observations to the iNaturalist website, a social network for naturalists. Users can also get some insight from fellow naturalists for help in identifying plants and animals they come across, and the app automatically records all species encountered. An interesting aspect of the service lies in the ability for scientists, conservationists, and land managers to garner valuable data from casual users, who can log when and where they’d encountered a specific thing in nature. Intel on climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction can also be recorded, by tracking data patterns in the community. Below is a Google map featuring logged data of the Pepperwood Vital Signs project, hosted by iNaturalist.
The interface is fairly simple to use; snap a photo, log the time and date, get a GPS location and transmit to the iNaturalist community.
The aforementioned Pepperwood Vitals Signs project is one of many being conducted within the iNaturalist community. And users can start their own projects as well.
In an article in Google’s Lat Long Blog, Dr. Scott Loarie, a fellow at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford and co-director of iNaturalist.org, related an almost Seinfeldian, J. Peterman-style tale concerning the apps connection to Charles Darwin –
Last weekend, as I rolled back a piece of bark at Pepperwood Preserve to reveal a big black beetle, I was reminded of a great story about Charles Darwin. Out collecting beetles, Darwin already had a beetle in each hand when he spotted a third. To free up a hand, he popped one of the beetles in his mouth. No sooner had he done this when it excreted some sort of burning liquid onto his tongue forcing him to spit it out, drop the second, and miss his chance for the third. Now in 2012, all I had to do was point my phone at the beetle and snap its picture with the iNaturalist app.
I can appreciate the angle. But more importantly, iNaturalist suggests it is possible for users to discover a new species, or help an expert map the range of a rare bug. Feedback from the community in regards to identifying a species typically takes a few days to get back to the user.