May 31, 2024

iNaturalist May News Highlights

We're excited to share our May News Highlights! If you missed last month’s highlights, you can catch up here.

Species Discoveries

A. In Ecuador, zoology student @abigaildt's photo of a butterfly caught the attention of @rhopal, @cadeou, @kwillmott and colleagues resulting in the description of a new species. You can read news coverage here and a Spanish version of our video here.





Distributions and Range Extensions

iNaturalist is helping scientists understand species distributions and how they are changing at in real time. Here are three examples from this month:

B. In Thailand, this paper documents a major range extension of the Himalayan giant honey bee with the help of this observation by @wuttipon.

C. In Honduras, this paper documents range extensions of the Golden Silk Spider within Honduras thanks to observations like this one by @oliverkomar.

D. In far northern Canada, this story recounts @anthcolangelo’s out of range encounter with a Golden-belted bumble bee.

Invasive Species and Climate Change Science

E. In Italy, @benjamin189 posted the first occurrence of the invasive Asian needle ant in Italy. @lynxrufa and colleagues were able to visit the site and collect specimens as recounted in their recent paper.

F. In Canada, this story explains why climate change is suspected as playing a role of the arrival of this invasive catfish documented by @ecota55.

G. In Massachusetts, this Boston Globe story describes work by @karro_frost and @jformanorth to keep invasive pears at bay like this one observed by @maurabarry.

Conservation Science

H. This great article in Nature Africa describes how the iNaturalist and Wikipedia communities are helping scale biodiversity information in Africa and highlights work by @marojejy, @daverichardson, @tonyrebelo, @possumpete and many others.

I. In California, this exciting new study by @joeycurti3, @mtingley and colleagues that uses iNaturalist data to understand how urbanization impacts species is getting media coverage in places like Science Friday, Science Daily, and Popular Science.

J. In Canada, this story describes @asper’s discovery of an endangered snail thought to have disappeared from most of Canada.

Phenology

iNaturalist is useful for understanding phenology which is the study of the timing of natural history events.

K. In Hong Kong, a paper by @johnt77 (seen here describing the project) and colleagues describes their Hong Kong Jellyfish project and how it is helping understand the timing of when jellyfish like this one observed by @lily_yeung are found in the water.

L. In Canada, this paper by @stephanieaverygomm and colleagues examined the strengths and weaknesses of using their iNaturalist project and observations like this one by @cara112 to detect a mass bird mortality event caused by avian flu.

M. There continue to be many articles about iNaturalist and the cicada emergence underway in parts of the United States. We're highlighting this one because of its focus on using iNaturalist to record cicada sounds such as this observation by @sam_hartzler. And if you’ve had your fill of stories about iNaturalist and cicadas from the United States, here’s one from Australia!

iEcology

In the emerging field of iEcology or Imageomics, we’re highlighting three stories of scientists finding interesting ecological patterns in iNaturalist photographs.

N. In the United States, this study used iNaturalist images showing mites on beetles like this one by @bertharris to better understand this interaction.

O. Similarly, this study in Ecuador used this observation by @bosquenublado to understand beetles that live in bee nests and use the bees themselves as taxis.

P. Also in Ecuador, this study used observations like this one by @fundacionmadreyumboec to understand how house wrens are incorporating human materials like plastic into their nests.

Bioblitzes and Events

Q. There were many articles on last month’s City Nature Challenge including this great Washington Post article on why you should participate that featured this relaxed toad observed by @ripley_k.

R. In Mexico, the 2024 Border Bioblitz got a lot of news coverage including this article quoting @sulavanderplank, @jrebman and others. This photo by Tamayo Vazquez shows @jorgehvaldez’s with an endangered red coachwhip and the border wall in the background. You can read more about the Border Bioblitz here.

S. In Jamaica, don’t miss this great video summarizing the recent Holywell Bioblitz posted by and featuring @damionwhyte.



iNaturalist and Human Health

T. iNaturalist is useful for better understanding species like bananas that are important to humanity. This paper by @chris971 and colleagues from CIRAD in France leveraged their iNaturalist project to better understand this important food source.

On the topic of growing plants, there were a pair of articles in the Washington Post this month that mention how iNaturalist can help keep invasive plants and also pests out of your garden.


iNaturalist’s Education Impact

With the school year wrapping up we saw iNaturalist being used in many student projects this month ranging from this study in Chennai, India featuring observations from @jomijose and others to this study by @emma2311 in California in which she coordinated collecting physical samples of hydras from iNaturalist observers to better understand their evolution and distribution.

Following up on their herping guide last month, @coreytcallaghan and colleagues at the University of Florida have released an excellent guide to mothing using iNaturalist.

iNatters in the News

U. In Massachusetts, @natemarchessault wrote a wonderful article describing how he uses iNaturalist to stay connected to nature.

V. In California, we loved this video where @charlotteseid explains why tuna crabs are being seen north of their usual range in San Diego.

W. In New Zealand, this article recounts how this photo won @frankashwood the “most inspiring invertebrate” award during the Ōtautahi/Christchurch City Nature Challenge last month.

Lastly, don’t miss this great podcast in which @jodyallair and @birdizlife discuss how iNaturalist can spark an interest in nature beyond birding.



Thank you to everyone who participated on iNaturalist this May! You can become an iNaturalist supporter by clicking the link below:


Donate to iNaturalist


Posted on May 31, 2024 09:10 PM by loarie loarie | 11 comments | Leave a comment

May 21, 2024

A Showy Hedgenettle - Observation of the Week, 5/21/24

Our Observation of the Week is this Stachys lavandulifolia hedgenettle plant, seen in Georgia by @​​crocusadamii!

Like many of us, Beka Sukhitashvili was fascinated by nature as a child but then turned away from it as they grew. 

As a child, I lived in a village for several years, which greatly influenced my outlook. Flowers have always fascinated me. As a teenager, I became completely immersed in urban life and had less and less time to observe the environment. Everything changed in 2020 when the pandemic hit my country. In Tbilisi, near my house, is Turtle Lake, where I started walking every weekend. At first it was just walking and relaxing, but gradually I became interested in the surrounding plants. I remember very well that the first flower I was interested in finding out the name of was Crocus speciosus. It remains my favorite flower to this day, and the genus is my favorite in general.

Now, as an amateur naturalist, my main goal is to study species and determine their exact Latin names, as well as take high-quality photos. I want to be able to record as many species as possible in the area of Tskneti/Turtle Lake/Mtatsminda and for that I created a project on iNaturalist.

Last month, Beka was hiking in the area and came across the plant you see above.

When I go to observe plants, I don't have a predetermined goal. While walking, I try to find the most beautiful flowering plant and try to take a high-quality photo with a camera, then process it and upload it to iNaturalist.

I noticed the Stachys on the side of Mtatsminda, in rocky and sandy places. I had never seen it before and was happy to add another species to my collection. I am a little dissatisfied with the quality of the photos, but in the future, since I already know the place where this flower grows, I will try to take better photos.

I was initially drawn to Beka’s observation because, in addition to being beautiful, it’s strikingly different from the Stachys species we have in California. Turns out that Stachys (a genus in the Mint family) has over 300 species and is distributed throughout much of the world, so it’s quite diverse. Stachys lavandulifolia is found natively in the Caucasus Mountains, in addition to Iraq and Iran, and as the Missouri Botanical Garden says, “the flowers are a show-stopper.”

Beka (above), says he found iNaturalist this year. 

I like the fact that I can easily search for information about a particular species and see in which region of Georgia it was observed. For example, Crocus vallicola is not mentioned in Georgian plant guides, but I came across it on iNaturalist and I was very happy.

I also like that I can compare my observations with those of others and thus identify the species. The site is multi-functional, which makes it attractive. I also like to help identify others’ observations.

(Photo of Beka by Beka’s brother Saba Sukhitashvili,. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.)


- take a look at some of the most-faved Stachys observations on iNat!

Posted on May 21, 2024 03:15 PM by tiwane tiwane | 13 comments | Leave a comment

May 16, 2024

New Computer Vision Model (v2.13) with 1,656 new taxa

We released a new computer vision model today. It has 88,517 taxa up from 86,861. This new model (v2.13) was trained on data exported on March 31, 2024.

Here's a graph of the models release schedule since early 2022 (segments extend from data export date to model release date) and how the number of species included in each model has increased over time.

Our goal is to try to attain the same accuracy or improve it while adding more taxa to the model. The graph below shows model accuracy estimates using 1,000 random Research Grade observations in each group not seen during training time. The paired bars below compare average accuracy of model 2.12 with the new model 2.13. Each bar shows the accuracy from Computer Vision alone (dark green) and Computer Vision + Geo (green). Overall the average accuracy of 2.13 is 88.2% (statistically the same as 2.12 at 88.1% - as described here we probably expect ~2% variance all other things being equal among experiments).

Here is a sample of new species added to v2.13:

Posted on May 16, 2024 09:47 PM by loarie loarie | 23 comments | Leave a comment

May 09, 2024

Welcome, Michelle, Thea, and Jane!

The iNaturalist team is growing! We are pleased to introduce three new members of the iNaturalist team:



Michelle F. Vryn


Head of Development

Michelle, with over 15 years of nonprofit experience, has led both fundraising and communications teams. Her expertise spans major gifts, digital fundraising, and institutional giving at organizations focused on endangered species, disaster relief, and nature education. Before joining iNaturalist, she worked at OneStar and Bat Conservation International. Michelle is a mentor to young nonprofit professionals and serves on the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Global board of directors.




Thea Skaff


Director of Digital Fundraising and Engagement

Thea is a nonprofit leader with experience in fundraising, marketing, analytics, and tech, driving engagement and growth for mission-driven organizations. She was recently a senior member of the Online Fundraising team at the Wikimedia Foundation (Wikipedia) where she planned and led fundraising campaigns in an international environment including A/B testing on large global data sets. When not working, Thea is often outside biking or hiking with her husband and two boys.




Jane Weeden


Accounting Associate

Jane joins iNaturalist's accounting department, bringing with her experience gained from the dot com era, the startup world, and as a small business owner. She holds an MBA from University of Texas at San Antonio and is enthusiastic about promoting the iNaturalist message. Outside of work, you'll find Jane leading walks in the parks around San Antonio as a Master Naturalist. She’s an avid photographer and enjoys honing her skills documenting the biodiversity around us.

Please join us in welcoming them!

Posted on May 09, 2024 11:49 PM by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 35 comments | Leave a comment

May 07, 2024

Observation Accuracy Experiment v0.4 is Underway

We delayed Observation Accuracy Experiment v0.4 a week to not distract from City Nature Challenge 2024. We're asking contacted validators to assess the sample by May 13.

We made 4 changes to this experiment from v0.3:

  1. Validators are now matched to sample observations based on past ID behavior in the same country rather than continent
    Previously, we matched a validator to a sample observation if they had at least 3 improving IDs within the same continent. We're now requiring at least 3 improving IDs within the same country to try to better match observations and validator experience. If we couldn't find any validators for an observation sample within the country, we expanded our search to continent and then globally, but we did this rarely. The samples are getting a bit large for some validators so we hope its not becoming a burden. Please let us know.

  2. We added a disclaimer to the message to comment here rather than replying to the message
    We've been receiving a large number of responses to the messages we send to contact validators that we aren't able to properly read and respond to. We added a disclaimer to the message with a link to this blog post asking people to post their questions and feedback here rather than replying to the message.

  3. We added more details about how to view your sample when viewing the message within the Android app
    Some people trying to access the message from the Message section of the iNaturalist Android app have been having trouble navigating to the sample. We included more details explaining how to do this.

  4. We added a search parameter to view observations included in an experiment sample
    Now that we're sampling 10,000 observations, clicking bars on a completed Experiment page is limited to exploring the first 500 observations. Longer term, we plan to make improvements to that page. But for now, we added a search parameter to construct explore URLs that, similar to how projects work you can construct Explore URLs using observation_accuracy_experiment_id, so you can see the sample of observations included in an experiment. For example, here are URLs for all the experiments so far (remember the version e.g. v0.4 isn't the same as the id e.g. 5):

Other than these three changes, this design and logistics of this experiment are the same as v0.3. As before, the Experiment page is live but the results will be updating daily and won't be finalized until May 13. At that time, we'll update this post with more discussion from the results.

Thanks again to all validators we contacted participating in this experiment. We wouldn't be able to conduct these monthly audits of iNaturalist observation accuracy with out your help!

Results (added 05/13/2024)

The results of this experiment were very similar to the other experiments. The average Research Grade accuracy (fraction correct) was 95%. You can explore the results including clicking through bar charts to observations here.

From all 4 experiments we've conducted, we've now assessed 22,000 observations including 12,464 Research Grade observations. The graph below uses Research Grade observations from this combined sample to estimate accuracy subset by continent, taxon group, and rarity (<100 observations is rare) and sorted by the uncertainty (95% confidence intervals). We now have much better estimates than we had before this experiment, and for many of the common subsets (black) we now have large enough samples to get confident estimates. But for all of the rare subsets (orange) our sample sizes are still too small to be confident in our estimates. As discussed in this thread below, we will probably have to design an experiment with a non-random sample targeting rare taxa to include enough of them to reduce the uncertainty accuracy estimates for these rare subsets.

Thanks again to everyone who participated in this experiment! We know this was a busy time on the heels of City Nature Challenge and very much appreciate your helping improve these accuracy estimates.

Posted on May 07, 2024 06:48 PM by loarie loarie | 135 comments | Leave a comment

May 02, 2024

iNaturalist April News Highlights

iNaturalist broke records this April thanks to an amazing City Nature Challenge. For the first time we logged more than 6 million observations and more than 400 thousand participants in a month! If you missed last month’s highlights, you can catch up here.

Species Discoveries

Here are three exciting species discovery highlights from April:

A. In Argentina, @lrubio7 and @typophyllum published a new species of katydid with an ultrasonic call. This article details their challenges capturing a specimen and the role iNaturalist played in describing the Tuyú meadow katydid.

B. In French Guiana, @elendil_c captured the first living photograph of a spectacular mantis species. It was identified by @piskomantis. The female of the species remains unknown.

C. In Panama, while testing a new Automated Monitoring of Insects system, @mlarrivee posted a moth that @neoarctia recognized as a species that hasn’t been recorded since it was described over 100 years ago.


Distributions and Range Extensions

iNaturalist is helping scientists understand species distributions and how they are changing at in real time. Here are three examples from this month:

D. In Trinidad and Tobago, this beautiful tuft moth posted by @rainernd is just one of many country records @matthewcock has found on iNaturalist and compiled in a new paper.

E. In Mexico, @el_maldo, @jorgehvaldez, and @annyperalta published a paper on the expansion of a Blue-eyed Ensign Wasp into Baja Mexico likely following the expansion of its cockroach host. They acknowledge @bdagley and @adeans for identifying the relevant observations such as this one posted by @andrea_navarro20.

F. In Hawai‘i, @dryrunner found the first record of Hairy Tare described in a new paper authored by @kphilley.

Invasive Species Science

Since 1970, invasive species have cost the world economy over 1 trillion dollars. These April examples show how iNaturalist is being used in the early detection and control of invasive species.

G. In California, @gloval75 found an Ocellated Bronze Skink that likely hitchhiked from the Mediterranean via the nursery trade. In a new paper described here, @gregpauly explains how observations like these help trace introduction pathways in order to preempt the future introduction of damaging pests.

H. In Canada, @etienne_normandin explains here how iNaturalist is being used to track and stop the invasion of Wandering Broadhead Planarians through observations like this one from @bmtf.

I. In South Africa, @daverichardson describes in this new paper how iNaturalist observations like this one from @graceemmy are helping understand the invasion of Myoporum shrubs.

Conservation Science

These stories show how iNaturalist is being used to inform conservation decision making and to monitor conservation effectiveness.

J. From Brazil, in this video clip, @felipewalter summarizes a recent paper with @zamoner_maristela @rodrigogoncalves on how iNaturalist is valuable for bee monitoring and conservation.

K. In Texas, this observation by @scincus of a Broad-banded Copperhead and others in the Roadkills of Texas project were used by @jamestracy and colleagues in models that will help mitigate roadkills.

L. In California, the Xerces blue famously went extinct as San Francisco sand dunes were developed. This story describes how @farinosa and colleagues have reintroduced the closely related silvery blue to restored sand dunes in the city and will use iNaturalist to monitor the population.

Climate Change Science

Here are two stories that illustrate how iNaturalist can be used to understand impacts from climate change:

M. In Belgium, @antmacdf and colleagues explain how iNaturalist observations like this one from @tigojac can be used to monitor and mitigate the damaging invasive termites that they predict will expand into many more cities with climate change.

N. In California, @singleuseplanet explains how Nudibranchs response to ocean warming makes them useful indicators of climate change and how iNaturalist can be used to track this response.

Phenology

iNaturalist is a powerful tool for understanding the timing of natural history events. Here are three examples from this month.

O. Across the eastern US, two different Periodical Cicada broods are emerging at the same time. This New York Times article describes the event and how iNaturalist is being used to track observations. This article describes @willkuhn’s view of the emergence from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Don’t miss @imperfectfunguy’s “hyper-sexual zombie cicadas that are infected with sexually transmitted fungus” subplot to this story or @cicadamania’s amazing process for using iNaturalist to predict when Cicadas will emerge.

P. In Europe, @tr0scot and colleagues used iNaturalist observations like this one from @konstakal in a new paper revealing the nocturnal behavior of Grass Snake.

Q. In California, a recent study used iNaturalist observations such as this Spotted Sand Bass by @bregnier to understand the massive die off associated with a 2020 Red Tide.



iEcology

The new field of iEcology or imageomics involves extracting information about ecology from images. iNaturalist is providing the scalable supply of annotated biodiversity images that is driving this field. This recent article provides an imageomics workflow for incorporating iNaturalist big data into machine learning models.

R. In Uraguay, this study used iNaturalist observations like this one from @tianal to understand the diet of two South American Caracara species.


AI Naturalist


While much of the AI race is being driven by monetization and an extractive relationship with creators, iNaturalist is committed to an alternative approach to AI research grounded in commons-based peer production and open data principles. Here are some recent AI research papers that make use of the iNaturalist open dataset:

The long-tail nature of iNaturalist observation (few species with many observations and many species with few observations) makes it a useful dataset for investigating methods for dealing with unbalanced data as in these papers by Rangwani et al., Yang et al., and Hong et al.

S. iNaturalist data is also useful for developing Vision Language Models that are increasingly able to explain AI identifications. For example, the model by Chiquier et al. at Columbia University is able to generate explanations like “twisted curved branches” to describe this Greenleaf Manzanita by @sandor_in. Other Vision Language Model studies from April leveraging iNaturalist include Bendou et al. and Tao et al.


Bioblitzes and Events


There were many City Nature Challenge news stories due to the record-breaking 683 cities participating — so many that there are separate projects for North & South America and Eurasia, Africa, & Oceania. This article described how @kestrel and @lhiggins have grown the annual event. This article by @lmata and colleagues in Australia describes their recent Bioscience paper on how CNC is improving local government biodiversity management decision making.

There were many stories about Earth Day Bioblitzes such as this one built on the Martha’s Vineyard Atlas of Life project that quotes organizer @richardcouse.

T. Last but not least, there was ongoing coverage about iNaturalist and the April eclipse including this nice article in the Smithsonian Magazine that included this striking closing okra flower by @owensdc from the 2017 eclipse. We couldn’t resist sharing this map of observations on April 8, 2024 where the path of the eclipse can be clearly seen in the observation activity.


iNaturalist and Human Health

This month, stories describing how iNaturalist is benefiting human well-being ranged from articles on iNaturalist and Biomimetics (drawing inspiration from nature to solve human problems), to foraging culture in Iceland, to tracking the spread of malaria.



iNaturalist’s Education Impact

U. Students participating in Bioblitzes is an important way that iNaturalist impacts education. This photo by @maninder6398 shows students participating in City Nature Challenge 2024: Nanakmatta.

Classroom activities involving iNaturalist owe their success to great teachers. This article describes the mothing expeditions that @cmeckerman leads his Austin Community College students on. This study from Portugal describes use of iNaturalist on university campuses.


iNatters in the News

V. From California, we loved reading @tkestrel’s article on her passion for wildflowers.

W. From Texas, this article on the scrappy badger includes some great quotes from @jonahevans.

X. @wanderingbotanistph’s efforts to promote conservation of endangered Rafflesia species through social media and iNaturalist projects continue to inspire us.

Lastly, we’re so grateful for all the fantastic outreach being done by the iNaturalist community. Three examples include this great podcast featuring @joemdo, @gyrrlfalcon, @catchang, @griffith, and @naturesarchive, this outstanding Guide to iNaturalist by @thebeachcomber, and this pdf guide to herping with iNaturalist by @brittanymmason @tysmith and @coreytcallaghan.



Thank you to everyone who participated this April - our biggest month ever on iNaturalist! You can become an iNaturalist supporter by clicking the link below:


Donate to iNaturalist


Posted on May 02, 2024 10:20 AM by loarie loarie | 16 comments | Leave a comment

April 05, 2024

New Computer Vision Model (v2.12) with 1,983 new taxa

We released a new computer vision model today. It has 86,861 taxa up from 84,878. This new model (v2.12) was trained on data exported on February 02, 2024.

Here's a graph of the models release schedule since early 2022 (segments extend from data export date to model release date) and how the number of species included in each model has increased over time.

Thanks to some work by the team described here, we are going to start posting accuracy estimates with these model releases estimated against 1,000 random Research Grade observations in each group not seen during training time. The paired bars below compare average accuracy of model 2.11 with the new model 2.12. Each bar shows the accuracy from Computer Vision alone (dark green), Computer Vision + Geo (geen), and Computer Vision + Geo + Cropping Change (light green). "Cropping Change" is a slight modification to the way images are prepared before they are sent to the CV model that resulted in an average 2.1% improvement.

Overall the average accuracy of 2.12 is 89.1%. You can see the average accuracy varies by taxonomic group and continent from as low as the 60s for Africa and as high as the 90s for Europe and North America. Also note that on average 2.12 is 1.1% more accurate than 2.11 which is consistent with our goal of keeping model accuracy roughly stable as we continue to add thousands of taxa each month (as described here we probably expect <2% variance all other things being equal).

Here is a sample of new species added to v2.12:

Posted on April 05, 2024 12:20 AM by loarie loarie | 39 comments | Leave a comment

April 03, 2024

3,000,000 Observers!


This week, we achieved a significant milestone on iNaturalist: passing 3 million observers!

A crucial 5%

While it might not appear so at first glance, the observer community on iNaturalist actually represents a small percentage of the total audience. For instance, this March, approximately 4.5 million people visited the iNaturalist website or used the iNaturalist or Seek mobile apps. Out of these, 600k (13%) had iNaturalist accounts, and only 245k people (~5%) posted observations.

Mapping observers

The maps show the location of first observations for a sample of about 15% of all observers around the globe. About 60% of all observers are in North America. In contrast, South America has about 6% of all observers.


Europe has the second largest number of observers followed by Asia. Africa has the least number of observers of any continent except Antarctica with most observers in the southern part of the continent.



Outsized Oceania

With an area of around 8.5M square kilometers, Oceania is the smallest continent. But it has an outsized number of observers thanks to the active observer communities in Australia and New Zealand.


Thank you!

If you're one of these 3 million observers, thank you for helping us reach this milestone! And if you'd like to join the even smaller, crucial group of iNaturalist supporters (0.05%), you can become one by clicking the link below!


Donate to iNaturalist



Posted on April 03, 2024 06:40 AM by loarie loarie | 34 comments | Leave a comment

March 31, 2024

iNaturalist March News Highlights

Happy Easter everyone! We had a hard time narrowing down our highlights this month from so many great stories. If you missed last month’s highlights, you can catch up here.

Species Discoveries

Here are three of the most amazing species discoveries on iNaturalist from this month:

A. In New Zealand, @pav_johnsson hung a mothlight from his hotel balcony while on a birding trip and became the only living person known to have seen the holy grail of New Zealand moths, the Frosted Phoenix moth.

B. In California, @lcollingsparker posted an observation that, with the help of scientists @easmeds, @bugsoundsjc, and @willc-t, turned out to be the rediscovery of Western Red Cicada which was thought to be extinct.

C. In Brazil, @birdernaturalist played an important role in the rediscovery of the Tananá, a katydid used as an example in Darwin’s writings on sexual selection that hasn’t been seen for 150 years.


Distributions and Range Extensions

These three examples illustrate why iNaturalist is such a powerful tool for monitoring changing species distributions in real time:

D. As shown in this observation by @pondgators, the sudden appearance of thousands of By-the-wind-sailors covering beaches documented by the iNaturalist community made headlines in California and Oregon.

E. In Arizona, @lynnharper, @hootyowl52, and @cameronramsey discovered the first U.S. record of a Mexican Beetle.

F. In Brazil, @rogerriodias contributed the northernmost record of an extremely rare Lance Lacewing to this study published by @calebcalifre.



Invasive Species Science

G. @brendaramirez and @jmccorm’s Free-Flying Los Angeles Parrot Project was featured in this article on how these non-native parrots like this one are adapting to urban forests of California.

Similarly, iNaturalist data is revealing how Swinhoe’s white-eye is expanding in California by using these urban forests according to a new study in Biological Invasions by @devonderaad and colleagues.


Conservation Science

iNaturalist is scaling how the conservation community is monitoring and protecting endangered species.

H. Thanks to observations like this one by @renae_mermaid, the iSeahorse project on iNaturalist improved International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List assessments for 35 of the 46 known seahorse species.

I. Florida is home to the critically endangered Smalltooth Sawfish such as this one observed by @rangeldiaz. Scientists like @dean167 are trying to understand why they are mysteriously dying and are asking the public to post observations to iNaturalist.

J. The collision death of Flaco this month, the beloved owl that escaped from the Central Park Zoo in New York, has refocused attention on bird deaths by building collisions and the many iNaturalist projects seeking to better understand and prevent this phenomenon by gathering observations like this one by @jtmerryman.

Climate Change Science

This study in PLoS from March used iNaturalist data to project the extent to which climate change will shuffle the species found in North American cities in the next few decades. Here are two more examples of how scientists are using iNaturalist to understand climate change impacts.

K. Climate change is causing earlier springs and warmer winters which is taking a toll on species. In Massachusetts, @maryhannah are monitoring how native hemlock trees are under increased pressure from the hemlock wooly adelgid pest which thrives in warm winters.

L. Similarly, @fuzzybumblebee explains how warmer winters in Minnesota are stressing native bees like this one observed unusually early by @daniellehudson by interrupting their winter hibernation.

iEcology

We continue to be amazed at all the ecological insights scientists are gleaning from information contained in iNaturalist images (iEcology). For example, this month we saw of studies on:

M. Understanding color aberrations - such as this white Rufous-collared Sparrow observed by @myerssusan included in this publication from Ecuador. @allisonshultz is also using iNaturalist to understand bird plumage patterns. This PNAS study on neon colored sea anemones and this study on wasp pigmentation in Italy use iNaturalist to explore the link between climate and these changes in pigmentation

N. Discovering new hosts species for spider wasps - such as this tarantula hawk observed parasitizing Dotted Wolf Spider by @rochalita that was included in a new study by @rickcwest and @frankkurczewski.

O. Understanding life histories of gall wasps - such as this observation of the gall made by a Dandelion Gall Wasp by @earley_bird included in this study by @louisnastasi.



AI Naturalist

P. In Germany, @jchiavassa and colleagues published a study on an automated malaise trap that leverages iNaturalist's Computer Vision AI to demo autonomously recording and identifying biodiversity records.

iNaturalist continues to be a standard benchmarking dataset used in AI studies around the globe like these five this month from Zhang et al., Bu et al., Cong et al., Hogeweg et al., and Daroya et al.


Bioblitzes and Events


Three big upcoming events dominated the news in March:

iNaturalist and Social Sciences

In a Nature Sustainability paper titled “Mobile Apps for 30×30 Equity”, @duanbiggs and colleagues recommend building on iNaturalist to link data collection to payments in order to simultaneously fill data gaps and provide financial support for people in developing economies. This study dovetails with another study in People and Nature this month by @cesarestien and colleagues on how socioeconomic factors can drive participation gaps on iNaturalist.



iNaturalist’s Education Impact

R. This article describes an "Exploring Nature using iNaturalist" training in Indonesia that @naufalurfi helped teach.

Other articles on using iNaturalist in the classroom included this one on bioblitzes by @issacvshl, this one on elementary school climate change education in Portugal, and this one by @katetilly and colleagues on using iNaturalist in the college classroom setting.


iNatters in the News

S. Don’t miss this great profile on @dj_maple from Australia who has posted over 15,000 observations to iNaturalist including many rare moths.

T. In British Columbia, this article describes @stephbrulot’s encounter with a 2-foot deep sea Giant Siphonophore

U. This article by @underwaterpat describes his encounter with a ribbon worm hunting a goby off the California coast.

V. This article tells the story of @srichakrapranav and @vimalraj’s encounter with a group of Sea Swallows along the Bay of Bengal in India



Thank you to everyone who participated in iNaturalist this March. We're amazed by all the impact this incredible community is having around the world. You can become an iNaturalist supporter by clicking the link below:


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Posted on March 31, 2024 07:08 PM by loarie loarie | 27 comments | Leave a comment

March 27, 2024

Of Isopods and Whelk Algal Gardens - Observation of the Week, 3/27/24

Our Observation of the Week is this isopod (potentially Exosphaeroma kraussi) on a Smooth Plough Shell snail (Bullia rhodostoma), seen in South Africa by @penel1!

“I happened to be climbing the mountains above Llandudno Beach (about 5 km from where I live in Hout Bay, Cape Town) on the Southern Apostles,” recalls Penelope Brown. 

The day was hot so afterwards I dropped down for a swim. The tide happened to be very low and the sea calm and very cold (due to intense upwelling). I had time before going home for lunch so I did a bit of iNaturalisting in the intertidal zone…see other photos on iNat at the time! And that is when I noticed the isopod / sea louse on the shell of one of the Bullia (plough shells). I was intrigued, so I took a few photos, posted them and then promptly forgot about them until the smiley sandy beach ecologist, Linda Harris (I don't know her), got all excited and proposed it as the Observation of the Day…To be honest, not being a very skilled iNaturalist participant, I did not even know that there was something like that!!  

Linda Harris (@linda_harris) is a South African marine scientist who specializes in coastal ecosystems, and as Penelope said she was quite excited by this observation. I reached out Linda for more information about the species involved, and any insights she might have into what was documented in the photos. She tells me that the snail is a type of whelk which can be found in the intertidal areas of sandy beaches, migrating along the beach as the tides change. 

These plough shells are scavengers with an exceptional olfactory system that allows them to detect even the faintest scents of beach-cast fish, jellyfish and bluebottles. They are so well adapted to the erratic supply of food that they can consume enough from one meal to last them for 18 days. However, they also have “algal gardens” on their shells on which they can forage when food is scarce. Because of their lifestyle of burrowing in and emerging from sand in the swash zone, with constant, relatively fast water movement around them, only the snails themselves can graze on their algal gardens. No other animal has previously been observed foraging on the algal gardens growing on these snails’ shells. That’s what makes this observation so unique. 

The plough shells must have been in the sheltered, shallow pool of water long enough for the isopod to detect the source of food and to start grazing on the algal garden. I haven't had a chance to key the isopod out yet, but I suspect this is one of the rocky shore isopods because I don't recognise it as a (at least, common) beach species. It’s the first time an interaction like this has ever been observed.

Penelope (above, on Table Mountain) grew up on a farm in South Africa’s Eastern Cape and credits the freedom she had to explore her surroundings for instilling her an interest in nature. “Walking with my father, she says, “we used to  sometimes listen to the ‘grass grow’ or sit quietly watching a buck nibble the vegetation, and when having tea in the forest with my mother, we'd leave little bits of chocolate cake for the fairies…it was magical!”

She ended up studying zoology at university, “on the advice of some senior students at my residence, because that department was ‘way more fun’ than the botany department (not really a good reason, but good enough as it turned out)” but ended up spending a lot of time with plants anyway, researching phytoplankton production and bloom dynamics in the the southern Benguela off the Cape Peninsula and diving in kelp beds. Then,

being increasingly intrigued by the ‘fynbos’ in of the Cape Floral Region while exploring the very different (cf Eastern Cape) mountains, the vlakte (plains) and coast of the Western Cape, my interests veered more into the terrestrial biota ... and this is where, later in life, iNaturalist eventually provided a space to 'formalize' my interactions with the incredibly biodiverse region in which we are privileged to live. (I actually started with iSpot with Tony Rebelo, a SANBI botantist friend, and dedicated local curator of iSpot and now on iNat, and a wonderful advocate for it!) 

I enjoy using iNat especially when I am on my own, and can immerse myself in it and bumble along happily in nature. I use it wherever I am, on and off, as it is a good record of where I have been and what we saw there. However, more specifically, I am tending to use it more and more for recording the locally indigenous plant species, and also for invasive alien plants, in our catchment (the Baviaans river catchment between Skoorsteenkop and Constantiaberg) which our community group is systematically clearing of invasive alien vegetation.

(Photo of Penelope taken by Judy Jepson. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.)


- Linda says she based a lot of what she wrote on research by A.C. Brown, which you can find on Google Scholar. She also recommends checking out page 14 of this paper [PDF] about whelk algal gardens

- way back in 2016, @oryzias‘s observation of an isopod attached to a fish was an Observation of the Week!

Posted on March 27, 2024 07:01 PM by tiwane tiwane | 12 comments | Leave a comment

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