Journal archives for July 2023

July 11, 2023

Spreading Our Wings: iNaturalist is Now an Independent Nonprofit

We have exciting news! iNaturalist is now an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

This is a big day for iNaturalist. Since launching in 2008, the iNaturalist team and organization has evolved, and we’re thrilled about this next milestone. iNaturalist began as a master’s project at the University of California, Berkeley, became a LLC, then joined the California Academy of Sciences in 2014. In 2017, iNaturalist became a joint initiative with the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. Today, iNaturalist is now an independent, US-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Over the past 15 years, the incredible contributions from the community have made iNaturalist into one of the world’s most powerful nature platforms.
      So far, the iNaturalist community has:

  • Created over 145,000,000 verifiable observations (adding about 1 million per week!)
  • Grown to 2.7 million contributors
  • Observed more than 430,000 species

We thank the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society for incubating iNaturalist as it grew dramatically over the last 9 years. We owe immense gratitude to these partners for their investment, support, and stewardship. We look forward to collaborating with both organizations in the future.

The way you experience iNaturalist won’t change with our new organizational structure. The iNaturalist team and infrastructure have seamlessly migrated to the independent organization with the support of our partners, and we'll continue collaborating with organizations around the world to support the iNaturalist Network.

Support iNaturalist

Very soon we will announce a generous grant that will give independent iNaturalist a solid start. The financial support of the iNaturalist community made our evolution possible and will be vital for long-term sustainability. Your donation now will celebrate this exciting milestone and further secure iNaturalist’s future. Thank you!


Humble Origins, Outsized Impact

Since launching in 2008, iNaturalist has become an indispensable tool in the global effort to preserve biodiversity. The data collected by our dedicated community is vital for conservation decisions and has contributed to over 3,700 scientific papers. By becoming an independent non-profit, we’re securing the future of the platforms so many have come to rely on.

Moving Forward

Independence represents an important, natural, and exciting milestone. iNaturalist’s focus has always been on building community and understanding biodiversity. By directing resources, organization, fundraising, and communications solely towards iNaturalist's mission and vision, we’ll be able to operate even more effectively, paving the way for future improvements and growth. You can read about our new board of directors and explore our Community FAQs to learn more.

Many, Many Thanks to the iNaturalist Community

iNaturalist owes its success to the incredible community. Anyone who has observed, identified, donated, or used our products has contributed to building the wealth of biodiversity knowledge that we’ve curated together. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for being part of this community. We are excited about what lies ahead and cannot wait to embark on this new chapter with you! Stay tuned for more updates.

Back (left to right): Alex Shepard, Sylvain Morin, Patrick Leary, Tony Iwane, Scott Loarie, Yaron Budowski, Abhas Misraraj
Front (left to right): Angie Ta, Amanda Bullington, Carrie Seltzer, Johannes Klein, Ken-ichi Ueda

Posted on July 11, 2023 06:18 PM by loarie loarie | 189 comments | Leave a comment

July 18, 2023

A Roost of Fruit Bats in Benin! - Observation of the Week, 7/18/23

Our Observation of the Week is this group of Straw-coloured Fruit Bats (Eidolon helvum, Roussette paillée africaine in French), seen in Benin by @gbiribou!

“I have been interested in nature since childhood thanks to my father, who is also in this field, and through my studies,” says Roméo Gbiribou. who goes by Gbiribou. At university, Gbiribou studied planning and management of natural resources, and has since been working with his father’s conservation organization: ONG Espace Vert et Développement (ONG-EVD). 

“[The Straw-coloured Fruit Bat] habitat is right in the city and I would like to find a way to conserve them with the help of ONG-EVD,” explains Gbiribou. “But before that, we have to show their presence, and since they are almost threatened and very important for nature, it is important to me to protect them against poachers.” So he’s been observing them on iNaturalist to document the population.

This bat species, while widespread and living in communities of over 100,000 individuals, is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, due to deforestation and hunting/persecution by humans. The plan to protect this population, Gbiribou says, is to raise awareness of the bats and to build barriers and prohibition plates to prevent poaching. “Finally, we are going to reforest and strengthen the habitat. A monitoring and management committee will also be set up to oversee all of this.”

Gbiribou (above) heard about iNat via the German company GIZ, who supports his group’s activities, and their Program Manager Mr. Horst. “So I tried iNaturalist, and it's now part of our working tools,” he explains. “We also use it for environmental education sessions with children and young people.”

I use iNaturalist primarily to find out about plant and animal species around me. Thanks to iNaturalist, I learned to recognize several species of birds and plants like Sesamun radiatium (many impressive articles on this plant and its family). Then iNaturalist allows me to make biodiversity inventories  of the sites of conservation interest on which we work with our NGO. And finally, iNaturalist allows us to share this data with anyone, at any time, allowing us to highlight our work.

(Gbiribou’s responses were in French and were translated with the help of Google and @sylvainmorin. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.)

- This observation is in Afribats, one of the oldest projects on iNaturalist! (It’s project #197)

- Straw-coloured fruit bats migrate in huge numbers near the end of the year. Here’s some footage of them emerging at night in Kasanka National Park, Zambia, a major migration destination.

Posted on July 18, 2023 08:26 PM by tiwane tiwane | 9 comments | Leave a comment

July 20, 2023

A new Computer Vision Model (v2.5) including 1,454 new taxa

We released a new computer vision model today. It has 77,276 taxa up from 76,129. This new model (v2.5) was trained on data exported last month on June 18th and added 1,454 new taxa.

Taxa differences to previous model

The charts below summarize these new taxa using the same groupings we described in past release posts.

By category, most of these new taxa were insects and plants

Here are species level examples of new species added for each category:

Click on the links to see these taxa in the Explore page to see these samples rendered as species lists. Remember, to see if a particular species is included in the currently live computer vision model, you can look at the “About” section of its taxon page.

We couldn't do it without you

Thank you to everyone in the iNaturalist community who makes this work possible! Sometimes the computer vision suggestions feel like magic, but it’s truly not possible without people. None of this would work without the millions of people who have shared their observations and the knowledgeable experts who have added identifications.

In addition to adding observations and identifications, here are other ways you can help:

  • Share your Machine Learning knowledge: iNaturalist’s computer vision features wouldn’t be possible without learning from many colleagues in the machine learning community. If you have machine learning expertise, these are two great ways to help:
  • Participate in the annual iNaturalist challenges: Our collaborators Grant Van Horn and Oisin Mac Aodha continue to run machine learning challenges with iNaturalist data as part of the annual Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference. By participating you can help us all learn new techniques for improving these models.
  • Start building your own model with the iNaturalist data now: If you can’t wait for the next CVPR conference, thanks to the Amazon Open Data Program you can start downloading iNaturalist data to train your own models now. Please share with us what you’ve learned by contributing to iNaturalist on Github.
  • Donate to iNaturalist: For the rest of us, you can help by donating! Your donations help offset the substantial staff and infrastructure costs associated with training, evaluating, and deploying model updates. Thank you for your support!
Posted on July 20, 2023 05:39 PM by loarie loarie | 16 comments | Leave a comment

July 25, 2023

In Mexico, a Biologist Spots a Rarely-Observed Stonecrop! - Observation of the Week, 7/25/23

Our Observation of the Week is this Echeveria racemosa plant, seen in Mexico by @sarahdiaz17!

A biology graduate of Universidad Veracruzana, Sarahí Díaz was “born and raised in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, a city between the mountains, so from a very young age I had a direct connection with animals and plants.” She now resides in Coatepec, Veracruz, which is near a cloud forest. 

Whenever my personal activities allow me, I go out to photograph organisms (mainly plants), to upload these observations to the platform, and thus reach the eyes of amateurs and experts. I agree with the idea that “what is unknown is not protected”.

Sarahí tells me she found the Echeveria racemosa by accident. When returning to the site of a Sedum population to check on its conservation, 

I found another path that I had not yet explored and decided to see what else I could find. The surprise was that I found this well-preserved population of Echeveria. As soon as I was able to download the photos, I asked Dr. David Jimeno, teacher and researcher for the group, for help with identification. He was the one who helped me with the ID and that's when I uploaded it to Naturalista [iNaturalist’s name in Mexico], hoping that other researchers would confirm the identification.

A member of the stonecrop family (Crassulaceae), Echeveria plants range from northern Mexico to northern Argentina and have succulent leaves which grow in a rosette shape. Brightly colored flowers grow on a long stalk. This observation is one of only thirteen Echeveria racemosa observations currently on iNaturalist.

“Interaction with nature through hiking and my love for wild plants has always existed,” says Sarahí (above, in the Sierra Madre Occidental), “but Naturalista has definitely been the catalyst to learn more about the vegetation that surrounds me and share it with the rest of the community.”

Thanks to these observations, I have had the great happiness of collaborating in the discovery and description of two new species for science [still to be published], which means that now every opportunity I have to go out to a new place, I observe in great detail new shapes and colors and everything that I have not photographed before, I capture and share with the naturalist community, since a third collaboration would not be bad for me. 😊

(Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.)

- The naturalist who took Sarahí's photo is @pioleon, the coauthor of a paper which described Gonolobus naturalistae, a plant named for iNaturalist!

Posted on July 25, 2023 09:48 PM by tiwane tiwane | 12 comments | Leave a comment

July 28, 2023

150,000,000 observations on iNaturalist!

This week we passed 150 million observations! While the number of observations has been growing steadily over time, observations per month passed 5 million for the first time this summer.

These observations aren’t equally distributed across space. The map below bins observations in each of 64,800 1x1 degree grid cells covering the globe. Most are in North America and Europe and other hotspots like Taiwan, Eastern Australia, Cape Town etc.

In the past posts, we’ve explored how observations are unevenly distributed across species. In the graph below, we’re doing the same with land area. The black line ranks all land surface (excluding Antarctica) 1x1 degree cells by number of observations. On the left are cells that encompass very observose cities such as Hong Kong with nearly 1 million observations. On the right are cells with very few observations such as the cell encompassing Kananga in the Congo Basin of Africa with just 3 observations. 40% of non-Antarctica land surface cells have no observations at all.

This graph shows how that line has shifted to the right as iNaturalist has grown from 50 million observations (dark green line) to 100 million observations (middle green line) and to 150 million observations (light green line). The percentage of land surface excluding Antarctica with at least 1,000 observations has grown from 12% to 20% with this tripling of observations.

This 1,000 observation threshold is a totally arbitrary cutoff representing grid cells with reasonably high densities of observations. Mapping them we can see light green (cells reaching 1,000 observations from the most recent 50 million observations) encroaching into gaps on the map. As is the case with tallying rare species, tallying observations from remote places proceeds much slower than the overall number of observations since most observations come from a relatively small number of places.

The graph below shows these changes in the percentage of cells with at least 1,000 observations for the United States, China, Africa, and Europe (excluding Russia which spans Europe and Asia).

In Europe (excluding Russia) and the United States, most cells now have over 1,000 observations (78% and 70% respectively). However, the percentage of cells with over 1,000 observations in Europe has increased relatively rapidly (from 53% to 78%) as observations across Eastern Europe fill in. In contrast the percentage of cells in the US is increasing more slowly (from 61% to 70%) as the remaining cells with few observations are in remote areas like northern Alaska. In Africa and China the percentages of cells with at least 1,000 observations is much lower (14% and 9% respectively).

Many parts of the world have few observations because they are so remote and so few people live there. It’s unclear what we can do to encourage more observations from such places. But as projects like City Nature Challenge show, it’s possible to get lots of participation from places where lots of people live. The graph below shows the 590 cities with populations over 750,000 people in 2010 ranked by number of observations. Cities in North America and Europe are colored in green while cities in Asia and Africa are in gray. Cities from other continents are shown in white. Most of the places in the world where lots of people live and we have few observations are in Asia and Africa. Engaging more people who live near these cities will be important part of increasing the geographic distribution of iNaturalist observations moving forward.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this 150 million observation milestone! If you’re inspired to donate, you can do so via the link below.

Donate to iNaturalist

Posted on July 28, 2023 10:24 PM by loarie loarie | 30 comments | Leave a comment