As it turns out, there are circumstances where inaturalist is used for more than just individual entries. Specifically, one of the site’s features allows members to create projects to which multiple participants can log observations, collect additional data not typically documented on the site and communicate through posts and comments. It’s easy to imagine a school class or a naturalist club using this feature, but it turns out that even sophisticated official record keepers see its potential. A case in point is a project launched by Ontario’s Natural Heritage Information Centre. It encourages individuals to join so that their observations of provincially rare species can be considered for incorporation into Ontario’s provincial record.
“This project has become an important data source for our centre,” says Colin Jones. “Since we launched, over 500 participants have contributed nearly 40,000 observations of 1,249 species.” Not only have these records allowed the centre to update its species conservation ranks and identify locations important to the conservation of rare species, Jones adds, but in some cases, they have led to species being “removed from the list of provincially rare species because of more data.”
The inaturalist project option has also proven to be a great tool for another prominent element in citizen science’s explosive growth: the so-called “bioblitz.” Bioblitzes are events in which participants record as many species as possible in a specific area over a set period of time, and many use inaturalist to post and organize all the data collected. The term was first coined for an event held in 1996. As with much of citizen science, the number and popularity of bioblitzes held worldwide has surged since the early 2000s. A lot of bioblitzes today combine serious scientific data gathering with a guided public component to grow people’s awareness and interest in biodiversity in and around their local communities.
“These are exercises where we’re both showing off the scientists and doing public engagement [while also] looking to learn something through the data we collect,” says Dave Ireland, a biologist based in Dartmouth, N.S., who was a co-founder of the Ontario Bioblitz program in 2012 and a pivotal partner in creating the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s national Bioblitz Canada 150 series in 2017. (continued)