Have you ever been out hiking and found a weird mushroom, or a strange plant and wondered what the heck it was?
Perhaps you go home, dig out a dusty guide book and try to find it in the illustrations, or work your way through a key full of unfamiliar biological terms. Finally, you put it down no further ahead than when you started.
Well, if you have a smart phone, things can get remarkably easier by using an app called iNaturalist. If you can take a picture of it with your phone or any camera, iNaturalist can tell you what you are looking at, providing the photo isn’t too dark or blurry.
The app is also helping citizen scientists forward conservation in their neighbourhoods, says Professor John Reynolds from Simon Fraser University (SFU). Reynolds conducts salmon research at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre in the summer, and is chair of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
He is also a big fan of iNaturalist.
This worldwide app has given the citizen science movement a remarkable shot in the arm, says Sandy McRuer, organizer of the Alberni Valley Nature Club.
“What is citizen science? ‘Anybody who voluntarily contributes his or her time and resources toward scientific research in partnership with professional scientists,’” according to the Oxford Dictionary, McRuer said. “Actually it was a thing well before the term entered the Oxford Dictionary in 2014. It just didn’t have a name.”
The key to iNaturalist being used as a tool for conservation is it not only identifies what’s in the photo you just took, it record its location, and it all ends up in a world-wide database.
“It’s kind of big brothery, but in a good way, a way that we can use to better improve the software, spread local knowledge about what is here—betchya didn’t know that Garry Oak grows in the valley,” he said.