Morrell’s Nature Interpreters recognize diverse species and the seasonal changes which modify a rich tapestry of life. At Morrell, we have several resources to help educate the public by categorizing the wealth of organisms within this urban forest. The Society has published two versions of Morrell Nature Sanctuary Guidebook, and a third one is forthcoming. With the aid of pictures, the Guidebook introduces visitors to the common plant and tree species within the park. But there is something which works in real time to do the same work: the website iNaturalist.ca and their iPhone or Android app.
iNaturalist allows anyone with a cellular phone to identify and share their findings to the iNaturalist community’s inventory of nearly 4 million observations worldwide. Using this app on an iPhone or Android device, you can take pictures of mushrooms, lichen, and tree bark in the Sanctuary. When you upload your images to the iNaturalist website, it proposes a genus for the items, and then specifies one or more species. For example, it took just seconds for my photo of the Northern Redbelt lichen (Fomitopsis mounceae) in the genus Complex Fomitopsis pinicola to be accurately identified. And that just the beginning…
The software will pinpoint the geographical location of your photo via a smartphone or camera (if the latter features geo-tracking). From the iNaturalist website, you can see on a map your image contributions and those of others in the same area. Each picture is accompanied by the user’s name, date of capture, and the genus/species. Other users will agree with the categorization proposed by the software or suggest another species and ultimately, the consensus from users gives your picture a “Research Grade”. Notably, many users of iNaturalist are botanists, biologists or naturalists who have expertise in North American plants and trees. This is what makes it a premier learning tool for identifying the diversity of life in our forests.
Perhaps one of the more interesting uses of iNaturalist is its usefulness to scientists who are measuring the changes to our ecosystem from global warming. As species migrate from one temperate zone to another in sufficient quantity, evidence accumulates about these trends. Sometimes, a picture is taken of a species thought to be extinct which becomes a major story on the iNaturalist website.
Some folks just want to enjoy the forest air in its myriad greens; others would love to know what they’re looking at. If you’re in the latter category, check out iNaturalist.org.
John Anderson is a volunteer with the Morrell Nature Society.