iNaturalist is a social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe. iNaturalist may be accessed via its website or from its mobile applications. As of February 2021, iNaturalist users had contributed approximately 66 million observations of plants, animals, fungi, and other organisms worldwide, and around 130,000 users were active in the previous 30 days.
iNaturalist describes itself as “an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature”, with its primary goal being to connect people to nature. Although it is not a science project itself, iNaturalist is a platform for science and conservation efforts, providing valuable open data to research projects, land managers, other organizations, and the public. It is the primary application for crowd-sourced biodiversity data in places such as Mexico, southern Africa, and Australia, and the project has been called “a standard-bearer for natural history mobile applications.
iNaturalist began in 2008 as a UC Berkeley School of Information Master’s final project of Nate Agrin, Jessica Kline, and Ken-ichi Ueda. Nate Agrin and Ken-ichi Ueda continued work on the site with Sean McGregor, a web developer. In 2011, Ueda began collaboration with Scott Loarie, a research fellow at Stanford University and lecturer at UC Berkeley. Ueda and Loarie are the current co-directors of iNaturalist.org. The organization merged with the California Academy of Sciences on April 24, 2014. In 2017, iNaturalist became a joint initiative between the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.
Since 2012, the number of participants and observations has roughly doubled each year. In 2014, iNaturalist reached 1 million observations and as of December 2021 there were 99 million observations.
Observations & Platforms
Users can interact with iNaturalist in several ways:
- through the iNaturalist.org website,
- through two mobile apps: iNaturalist (iOS/Android) and Seek (iOS/Android), or
- through partner organizations such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) website.
The iNaturalist platform is based on crowdsourcing of observations and identifications. An iNaturalist observation records a person’s encounter with an individual organism at a particular time and place. An iNaturalist observation may also record evidence of an organism, such as animal tracks, nests, or scat. The scope of iNaturalist excludes natural but inert subjects such as geologic or hydrologic features. Users typically upload photos as evidence of their findings, though audio recordings are also accepted and such evidence is not a strict requirement.
iNaturlist City Nature Challenge
In 2016, Lila Higgins from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and Alison Young from the California Academy of Sciences co-founded the City Nature Challenge (CNC). In the first City Nature Challenge, naturalists in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area documented over 20,000 observations with the iNaturalist platform.
In 2017, the CNC expanded to 16 cities across the United States and collected over 125,000 observations of wildlife in 5 days. The CNC expanded to a global audience in 2018, with 68 cities participating from 19 countries, with some cities using community science platforms other than iNaturalist to participate. In 4 days, over 17,000 people cataloged over 440,000 nature observations in urban regions around the world. In 2019, the CNC once again expanded, with 35,000 participants in 159 cities collecting 964,000 observations of over 31,000 species. Although fewer observations were documented during the 2020 City Nature Challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic (when the CNC became collaborative as opposed to competitive), more cities and people participated and more species were found than in previous years.
City Nature Challenge 2022 – Weskus
The City Nature Challege 2022 is scheduled for 29 April to 02 May 2022. For the first time the Challenge will extend beyond the boundaries of the City of Cape Town into the West Coast (Weskus) and Swartland districts. Visit the CNC 2020: Weskus page on iNaturalist to learn more and to join the project. Plants and animals from both terrestrial (land) and aquatic (freshwater and marine life) are included. Focus is placed on indigenous wildlife and plants however invasive alien species such as Rooikrans, Echium, Water hyacinth, etc. can also be included.