• iNaturalist
    iNaturalist users "observe" countless plants and animals (including ospreys) in an effort to track change across the nation. © Don Faulkner
  • iNaturalist
    Senators Chris Coons and Sheldon Whitehouse use iNaturalist with NPS employees.
  • iNaturalist
    Bioblitzers fan out across Death Valley National Park during the spring superbloom.
  • iNaturalist
    Prolific iNaturalist user Jonathan Carpenter "reallifeecology" observes thousands of plants and animals with fellow Bioblitzers.

SAN FRANCISCO (May 31, 2016) — Nature enthusiasts are celebrating a monumental American milestone in outdoor style, all year long. In honor of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service, Parks visitors are tracking wildlife using iNaturalist, the California Academy of Sciences’ powerful citizen science platform that connects people to nature through technology.

This month, citizen scientists turned out in droves during a special “National Parks Bioblitz” that dramatically boosted 2016 Parks observational snapshots of wildlife—ranging from Joshua trees in California to threatened ospreys in Washington, D.C.—beyond the 65,000 mark. Bioblitzes are efforts by scientists and members of the public to document as many different species in a park as possible. Though iNaturalist users have uploaded nature observations (in the form of geo-tracked photos of plants and animals) from more than half the nation’s National Parks during 2016, this weekend-long National Parks Bioblitz inspired 126 Parks to host their own exciting events and encourage visitors to observe and record their experiences with the wildlife like never before.

iNaturalist generates a massive amount of valuable scientific data, providing scientists and conservation managers with much-needed, real-time insight on how the distributions of plants and animals are changing with climate and land use. National Parks visitors are encouraged to continue recording the nature all around them through the remainder of 2016—and beyond.

“We’ve worked with the National Park Service to coordinate Bioblitzes before,” says iNaturalist co-founder Dr. Scott Loarie, “but never more than 100 all at the same time. It was incredible to see observations from across the Nation streaming into the jumbotrons on the National Mall.”

iNaturalist for everyone, everywhere
The staggering 2016 citizen science turnout in support of U.S. National Parks is simply one aspect of iNaturalist’s ever-increasing global database. Housed and financially supported by the California Academy of Sciences, iNaturalist has been accessed by millions of camera-toting, mobile phone-carrying users around the world, with 2.8 million global observations of plants and animals to date. These observations, which represent more than 94,000 distinct species, are publicly available, shared with the leading global biodiversity database (Global Biodiversity Information Facility, known as GBIF), and add to our understanding of what lives where. A quick look at iNaturalist's searchable maps highlights the planet’s biodiversity on an enormous, connected scale.

“Citizen science is emerging as a powerful new tool to confront Earth’s sustainability challenges,” says Loarie. “iNaturalist enable everyone, everywhere to record the scientific data we need to protect nature while enjoying the outdoors at the same time. Technology is a tool that makes this kind of coordination between hundreds of thousands of scientists and naturalists possible.”

May celebrations across the nation
During this month’s nationwide Bioblitz, enthusiastic citizen scientists highlighted the unique beauty and biodiversity of 126 National Parks from coast to coast. Because National Parks are one of the front lines of defense against species extinction, they serve as crucial habitat for tens of thousands of plant and animal species. Observations posted to iNaturalist provide valuable data to the Park Service to help them better manage these natural resources.

Longtime National Park Service partner National Geographic hosted an exciting two-day biodiversity festival (May 20-21) on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, where iNaturalist statistics from National Parks across the country were projected onto two jumbo screens for all to enjoy. Attendees recorded Mall wildlife that thrives around memorials and monuments that span hundreds of acres of lawns and trees. More than 2,600 elementary school students explored the National Capital regional parks (which includes the National Mall)—a region that contributed roughly 5,000 wildlife observations to iNaturalist during the two-day event.

Beyond the capital, far-flung National Parks supported the coordinated push to document nature. Cuyahoga Valley National Park in northeastern Ohio logged a whopping 800 species. Across the nation in California, visitors to Cabrillo National Monument checked-in with more than 400 different species of plants and animals.

Thousands of new and returning iNaturalist users—including U.S. Senators Chris Coons and Sheldon Whitehouse—encouraged others to join the nationwide Bioblitz. Prolific iNaturalist user Jonathan Carpenter (known online as “reallifeecology”) topped an impressive list of National Parks Bioblitz contributors with more than 1,000 observations from Parks across the nation. Carpenter travels the country with his family, tracking biodiversity and helping other Bioblitz-attendees upload their observations to iNaturalist. His sky-high statistics are an inspiring example of the grassroots collaboration that drives a growing movement of active citizen scientists.

To date, observations of plants (29,792) have dominated iNaturalist’s 2016 National Park activity. In descending order, birds (11,768), insects (7,647), fungi (2,433), reptiles (2,041), mammals (1,438), mollusks (1,135), arachnids (1,108), and amphibians (986) comprise the remaining batch of observational data points. Leading the pack of most observed non-native, introduced species across National Parks are European starling birds, honey bees, garlic mustard, and seven-spotted ladybugs. Most threatened species observed in National Parks appear to sport wings; iNaturalist shows multiple sightings of chimney swift, osprey, and red-headed woodpecker birds, followed by a number of threatened Monterey Cypress tree observations.

Make a date to explore
2016 National Park Service tracking (which continues through December 31, 2016) is one exciting slice of the Academy’s upcoming citizen science offerings. Save the date for an upcoming Bay Area Bioblitz and discover exciting new ways to enjoy the outdoors and contribute to critical scientific tracking.

Whether iNaturalist users document wildlife in National Parks or their own backyards, every citizen scientist—new or returning—is helping to explore, explain, and sustain life on Earth. The Academy joins partners like National Geographic and the U.S. Department of the Interior in encouraging volunteers to explore their local environments with iNaturalist all year round.

Research at the California Academy of Sciences

The Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences is at the forefront of efforts to understand two of the most important topics of our time: the nature and sustainability of life on Earth. Based in San Francisco, the Institute is home to more than 100 world-class scientists, state-of-the-art facilities, and nearly 46 million scientific specimens from around the world. The Institute also leverages the expertise and efforts of more than 100 international Associates and 400 distinguished Fellows. Through expeditions around the globe, investigations in the lab, and analysis of vast biological datasets, the Institute’s scientists work to understand the evolution and interconnectedness of organisms and ecosystems, the threats they face around the world, and the most effective strategies for sustaining them into the future. Through innovative partnerships and public engagement initiatives, they also guide critical sustainability and conservation decisions worldwide, inspire and mentor the next generation of scientists, and foster responsible stewardship of our planet.

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