“Citizen Science” is just what it sounds like – citizens like you and me, doing science! What’s science? Science is partly a process by which we expand our understanding of the universe by asking questions, designing and conducting experiments, gathering data, interpreting results and developing conclusions. As citizen scientists, one of the easiest places to start is to jump right to collecting data.
What is iNaturalist? iNaturalist is a website and phone app which you can use to record your observations of plants, animals, insects and fungi while out in nature. It will record the date and time of your observation, allow you to upload photos and is really great for helping you to identify the species of the flora or fauna you’ve observed.
How does it work? It’s very simple. The easiest way to use it is to install the iNaturalist app on a smartphone. Set up an account, then get ready to observe. Find an interesting animal, insect or plant and snap a few good pics. Within the app, click the green plus sign to add an observation and upload one or more pics – the app will automatically fill the time and place where the pic was taken. Click on the “What did you see?” button and a list of candidate species will appear. Select the correct species. The app is incredibly good at identifying species! Other users can verify the identification of your species or suggest other species if they believe your identification is incorrect.
Head to inaturalist.org for more information. You can use the website to upload observations from conventional cameras, but you may need to manually add the location and time/date of the observation. On the website search for “Agassiz Environmental Learning Center” or “Fertile Sand Hills” to see all the observations that have been recorded there. When you record an observation within the Sand Hills, it will automatically be added to our project!
So how is this science? You can create your own research questions such as “How many species of tree can I identify along the Sand Hill River today?” or “Will the wildflowers I observe in the prairie today be different than the wildflowers I observed there two months ago?” or “Which one of us can find and identify the coolest insect in the sand dunes?”. Then you head out into the field to collect data to try to answer your questions.
Your data can also be used to help other researchers answer their questions. A researcher studying ruby-throated hummingbird migration, or the extent of rare western prairie fringed orchids or invasive common buckthorn can use iNaturalist to gather and analyze a huge number of field observations – including yours! Of course, when you log your observations in iNaturalist it’s valuable to the staff at AELC, too. We can use your data for outreach and the development of species lists, management plans and environmental programming. Give iNat a try!