Tech Tip Tuesday: All About Checklists

Spring is in the air. Literally, in some ways. I took a walk up the road yesterday while enjoying the gorgeous weather and was surprised to find my eyes briefly assaulted by some small, flying insects. While that may be more spring than I’m ready for at the moment, I am enjoying the warm sun, renewed vigor of woodpeckers in the nearby forests, and the early shoots of flowering plants beginning to emerge in my garden. At this point, it’s hard to know what March may still have in store for us, however I will take this break from winter’s icy grip while it lasts.

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

Many citizen science apps exist nowadays covering a wide range of project styles and topics. When it comes to naturalist apps it can be hard to know exactly which one to use in each situation. While I usually take this space to explain a handy feature of iNaturalist, today I’m going to explain why it might be best to record your bird and butterfly data on eBird and e-Butterfly.

The main difference between these two projects lies in how they record data. eBird and e-Butterfly both use checklists to record information about species, while iNaturalist uses one-at-a-time observations. While observations are incredibly useful for noting when a species is present in an area, they fail to provide clarity about species’ absences or their relative abundance. From iNaturalist presence-only observations, you can build models of a species’ range and then track expansions and contractions, but without individual counts you can’t track population declines.

It’s in these cases that checklists shine. Unlike one-off observations, complete checklists report what wasn’t found too. For a complete checklist, every species you could identify to the best of your ability, by sight and/or sound, is reported. As long as you aren’t intentionally leaving any species off your list, you’re submitting a complete checklist.

Checklisting also collects important information on effort. When you begin a checklist for eBird using the smartphone app , it tracks the distance you travel and your time birding. It also keeps track of whether you see a species and how many individuals you count. Using this information, eBird estimates the amount of effort expended while birding, providing context for the number of species you recorded. The more effort that goes into your search (based on time, distance, and number of people), the more likely it is that you’ve observed all species present in that area. If a species isn’t detected and the completed checklist indicates relatively high effort, it’s likely that the species was truly absent.

While this system may seem a little complicated, scientists can actually use it to produce fairly detailed models displaying bird (or butterfly) presence and absence. On eBird, for example, they use this data to create maps showing species’ migration and population trends. Ultimately, this data will be highly useful as scientists continue to unravel how climate change, land use, and other human activities impact birds around the world. Checkout this article to learn more about how completed checklists are used.

I encourage you to use eBird and e-Butterfly for recording bird and butterfly observations. This is not to discourage you from using iNaturalist, since it does contribute valuable data on species’ distributions. However, it’s important to understand the differences between these tools and what they offer, and learn to use them both. So, if you decide to go out birding or butterflying, I encourage you to keep a checklist as you go and upload any neat observations into iNaturalist later.

TTT Task of the Week

This week I want you to explore Vermont eBird’s science section. Check out all of their maps to get a sense for what these differences can do. To learn more about these maps, check out this article on Vermont eBird. Next time you go out birding or butterfly hunting, I want you to give eBird or e-Butterfly a try. And keep using iNaturalist too! You can upload any photos you take while out checklisting.

Thank you for helping us map Vermont’s biodiversity and happy observing!

Posted by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2, March 10, 2020 23:10

Comments

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Is there no app for e-Butterfly? Will there be in the future?

Posted by terrymarron 9 months ago (Flag)
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Unfortunately, there isn't app for it yet. The designers hope to create one in the future, however I'm not sure of exactly when.

Posted by emilyanderson2 9 months ago (Flag)

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