iNaturalist is a smartphone application and website that allows a community of users to record biodiversity observations; and crowd source species identifications from an online team of amateur and professional taxonomists.
Key features of iNaturalist include its:
- Ability to collect data offline on the smartphone app;
- Online and offline (for iphone) resources for species identification;
- Ability to set up "projects” - efforts that citizen scientists may contribute towards under one theme or within one geographic region, with additional information recorded alongside individual species observations (environmental characteristics, threats such as proximity to logging etc.).
Data can be exported from the iNaturalist website into excel or GoogleEarth for deeper investigation and analysis. Biodiversity statistics derived from iNaturalist may be relevant to countries who are providing information on the Aichi Biodiversity targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UNFCCC REDD+ safeguards.
Community members with smartphones and minimal training are able to both record data offline and set up surveys and analyze data online. A long term development for iNaturalist will be to enable visualization of project data on a smartphone, without it having to be first downloaded and analysed separately. Community members should be aware that due to the social networking element of the website, data recorded is accessible to the public, although sensitive information on rare and endangered species may be generalized.
There are two parts to the iNaturalist platform:
- the website, where 50% of the observations are entered into the platform and species identification are verified and refined;
- the smartphone app which is primarily used for data recording.
In order to fully use all the functionality of the platform, users should have access to the website even if they can record observations offline on their smartphones.
Strengths for community-based forest monitoring
- Connects remote communities with a body of engaged experts and enthusiasts online; improving species observations in the field to research grade datasets;
- Interfaces with international web platforms for the conservation of species, such the IUCN red list and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility;
- Large amount of online support for users;
- The approach is scalable globally as it is simple, it requires only very basic web skills to set up a “project” and equally basic smartphone skills to download the app onto a smartphone.
Weaknesses for community-based forest monitoring
- Limited automated visualisation and data analysis capabilities beyond being able to summarise species observations on a map, this presents a barrier to communities wishing to see quick feedback on their data capture;
- Access to internet is needed to consolidate data, even if the data observations can be collected in the field offline;
- Only Spanish and English currently supported;
- Data is publically available on a global server, so communities would not be able to commodify or restrict access to data collected;
- Inappropriate for an illiterate society and high dependency on text.
Tutorial screen shots for using the smartphone application
On downloading the app, there is a quick user introduction to the app, available in English and Spanish.
Observations can be added offline and synced when a smartphone reaches an area with WiFi or mobile internet.
This screenshot illustrates how you can add additional information and data to your observation, it also gives you the option to obscure the co-ordinates of the observation. This could be important for rare or endangered species, such the Rhino, which are under threat from hunters. For community-based forest monitoring, this would allow communities to hide location information of commercially valuable timber species.
iNaturalist’s unique selling point is its connection with a large volunteer group of amateur and professional taxonomists and scientific experts who can add value to each observation made by verifying and refining where necessary species identification.
On your phone, you are able to visualise observations of species by other users, but not analyse results.
User guides are available offline on the iphone to identify species, and online on the android platform.
Data can be submitted via the website, through manual entry, or from syncing data from the mobile app over WiFi or mobile internet when the collector has returned to a connected area.
Data analysis and visualisation features are currently being developed for the smartphone, currently the most powerful way to visualise and analyse the data is to download it from the website in a format (.csv) that can be opened and analysed in excel or in a Geographic Information System (.kml, .shp) such as GoogleEarth or QuantumGIS.
iNaturalist is comparable with Open Data Kit, although it has many preprorgamme features such as a guide to identification of species which ODK does not. However ODK is fully customisable to any topic, while iNaturalist is focused on biodiversity.
How do I learn more?
Review the website http://www.inaturalist.org/ for latest updates on the project.
Watch the video below for a testimonial of how iNaturalist may be used to support a citizen science biodiversity survey,"BioBlitz".