Meet Lisette Arellano (ten_salamanders), an iNaturalist Monthly Supporter

This is the third interview in a series getting to know members of the iNaturalist community who are also Monthly Supporters. You can also read the first and second interviews.

Lisette Arellano (@ten_salamanders) is from the San Francisco Bay Area in California. She works for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy as the Community Science Program Manager at One Tam, using iNaturalist is part of her work. Earlier this year she gave a presentation at a virtual event hosted by fellow iNaturalist enthusiast and author Mary Ellen Hannibal (@mhannibal) for the Bay Nature Institute (you can watch a recording of the whole program here, or jump straight to Lisette’s part beginning at 7:35).

How did you first get into iNaturalist?
iNaturalist is how I finally arrived at a place of contentment with my identity as a scientist and endurance athlete. It’s a long story that starts when I was a high school student saving up for a mountain bike so I could go on solo adventures without a car. That fall, I joined the high-school cross-country team as a ploy to spend more time outside, hang out with friends, and daydream. I wanted to be an ecologist when I grew up and imagined that by biking and running, I could get to know the Santa Cruz Mountains very well and learn all the nature things. That did happen to some extent until I got serious about sports and with that came some unexpected opportunities. By the time I was a collegiate student-athlete, my running-biking-naturalist concept seemed impractical. If I was outside, I was at practice preoccupied with how fast and how far I was going or I was in the field with exams or research on my mind. It was hard to slow down and appreciate the monarchs of Ellwood Grove and the plants of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

My doctoral work took me to Boulder, Colorado, a town full of athletes and scientists with big ambitions. That era had a lot of ups and down, and I constantly felt disappointed with my efforts as an ecologist, naturalist, and athlete. It’s difficult to do a hard workout before a day of Rocky Mountain summer fieldwork or to be mentally and emotionally present for both competition and comprehensive exams. Slowing down was hard when I felt like I always had to rush off to finish work.

Then on a winter break at Point Reyes National Seashore, I spent time on the trails, running the parts that were fun to run, hiking the parts that were fun to hike, and taking lots of pictures of slugs and mushrooms. After hours in the mist and rain, the evenings were spent curled up with field guides from the hostel library. This is what a younger version of myself had imagined and I wanted that feeling of gentle adventure and curiosity every day after that.

Life is not vacation, so it took me a while to figure out how I was going to establish a daily practice. iNatualist made it possible. Most of my iNatting happens on runs or bike rides, no matter how epic or mundane, fast or slow. Every time I upload my observations, spend time identifying, follow the path of my curiosity, even for five minutes while I’m also stretching, it’s all joy.

What made you want to donate monthly, in addition to everything else you do with iNaturalist?
In meetings, I’m always saying that iNaturalist is the promise of the Internet fulfilled. Well, I stand by that. I use iNaturalist every day and really want it to thrive into the future. I am grateful for iNaturalist as a conduit for my personal curiosity, a tool for my professional work, and a local and global community. Lastly, as a fellow non-profit worker, I know it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work to maintain operations and am sympathetic to the need for predictable, long-term funding.

What keeps you motivated?
In my personal iNaturalist practice, I am most energized by the opportunity to hold a beginner’s mindset and to follow my curiosity without external pressure. With iNaturalist, there is also a sense of adventure to everything I do, however ordinary. Adventure and curiosity are very similar to me in that they are largely about holding a gentle fascination and openness to the world. For example, if I’m not at work, I do most of my iNatting while running or biking. If I start my run with a curious mind, I end up seeing all kinds of things –a squirrel blind in one eye, an interesting bee behavior, a new-to-me mushroom—and I am reminded that my tiny pocket of the universe is indeed very special and full of adventure.

In my professional iNaturalist practice, I am motivated by all the people that are part of One Tam and the constant experimentation and problem-solving we do for conservation. The best part of my job is connecting community scientists to each other and providing the space and support for people to develop and share their naturalist skills and curiosity. Starting new community science projects takes a ton of work, and I’m grateful that iNaturalist is such a solid tool for everything from mycoblitzes to our new Marin Milkweed Monitors project. The second-best part of my job is nerding out with data and constantly diving off the deep end learning new things. When I have a big dataset in front of me it’s like I opened a big box of coloring pencils and paints and the code is the blank canvas. It’s a bit overwhelming, but very exciting.

What’s something that you’d like more members of the iNaturalist community to know or do?
I want the iNaturalist community to join action to ensure a livable planet for all organisms. I want everyone to realize that their pocket of the universe is indeed special and full of adventure and to act together to protect it. The iNaturalist community is global, so it’s hard to generalize. The society I inhabit is constantly distracted and divided, and I think it’s subversive to pay attention to the very real living things nearby and to connect to other people that respect and care about life on this planet. In some places, that’s not safe to do at all. By contributing to iNaturalist, members of this community are already taking steps to connect and build knowledge collectively and that’s just the beginning of action. In brief, be kind to others, share knowledge generously, and show up to care for the place you inhabit.

And if you are living in the San Francisco Bay Area or visiting, come play with me at One Tam. You can visit or @onetamalpais on Instagram for announcements

Thank you to @ten_salamanders and all of the Monthly Supporters! iNaturalist Monthly Supporters give automatic, recurring charitable donations and can be recognized on their profile pages, if they choose to from their account settings. Monthly Supporters are a critical part of our community and help ensure that iNaturalist is freely available to people all over the world. You can become a Monthly Supporter by giving your first recurring donation online. Thank you!

iNaturalist thrives thanks to deeply dedicated and enthusiastic community members like Lisette. We’re grateful to everyone who is generous with their time, expertise, and other gifts. For the rest of 2021, we'll profile several different Monthly Supporters to highlight members of the community and why they support iNaturalist.

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iNaturalist is a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. All donations will be received by the California Academy of Sciences, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt not-for-profit organization based in the United States of America (Tax ID: 94-1156258). Gifts can be made online in more than 40 different currencies via bank account, credit/debit card, or PayPal.

Posted on August 27, 2021 06:20 PM by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer


What a great piece! If you love iNat and what it does for you, why would you not want to support it?

Posted by susanhewitt almost 3 years ago

I assume her dark secret is that she is actually eleven salamanders in a trench coat.

Posted by astra_the_dragon almost 3 years ago

@ten_salamanders I so admire your eloquence, thank you so much for donating and for being an amazing part of the iNat community. Hoping to make it to Mt. Tam sooner rather than later!

Posted by tiwane almost 3 years ago

yet another runner derailed by biodiversity... we should form a club

Posted by leptonia almost 3 years ago

Honored to work with Lisette. She's a powerhouse

Posted by dgreenberger almost 3 years ago

@trh_blue_ shhhhhhh!!!!!!

Posted by ten_salamanders almost 3 years ago

@tiwane I <3 iNat so much! thank you and do come come visit us on Tam soon

Posted by ten_salamanders almost 3 years ago

@leptonia you too, huh?I think we just started a club! (we can wear iNat tank tops as singlets)

I don't think of it as's more like well-rounded. I still love crushing some repeats, but it's nice to have the option to stop and admire some reticulate tail-droppers and amanitas too.

Posted by ten_salamanders almost 3 years ago

@dgreenberger Honored to work with you! every day our teams get to be on Mt. Tam is really kinda the best.

Posted by ten_salamanders almost 3 years ago

@susanhewitt thanks for the kind words!

Posted by ten_salamanders almost 3 years ago

inaturalistic stop and go ! really great...for body an soul...and certainly worth a donation !

Posted by anetteffm almost 3 years ago

What a great interview. Perfectly sums up my feelings about iNaturalist, the place where things I had been dreaming of my whole life to happen can actually happen even with the realities of life still in play.

Posted by marshall20 almost 3 years ago

I wish i could do that

Posted by aaryan_ almost 3 years ago

Spectacular interview! Thanks for all of your work and dedication, Lisette.

Posted by sambiology almost 3 years ago

Thank you for your wonderful words....You really rock...wishing you continued success and hope to see you in inaturalist..By the way..I am a complete nature loving beginner and do make many mistakes....I really hope they are getting smaller and smaller. I do learn so much by each one and appreciate other inaturalists word to help me understand. :) Stay safe. Sheila

Posted by sheilsun almost 3 years ago

Thanks for sharing @ten_salamanders ! I will definitely share this interview with the students I work with! I can relate to SO much of your story as a life long runner who intentionally studied Biology/Life science to co-mingle my love of being a part of the environment with my own curiosities....! As @damontighe knows, I like to call my emerging naturalist skills & mycophile as my "fall back"plan as my body ages--I hope as my pace slows down I will notice more and more--and still be able to be immersed in the field!

Posted by lgottlieb almost 3 years ago

Lisette is my hero!

Posted by passthatatlas almost 3 years ago

Wonderful article! Thanks!

Posted by gyrrlfalcon almost 3 years ago

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