Tech Tip Tuesday: Anyone Can Use Identify!

At last, the weather forecast shows that local temperatures will range in the 70s and even into the 80s this week! While I acknowledge that it will probably only take a couple weeks of low- to mid-80s and high humidity to make me miss the cooler weather, for now I welcome this break from the unseasonable cold. And in case you were wondering, yes this spring has been unusually cold. While most regions of the world recorded above-average temperatures for April, the northeastern United States was actually cooler than average.

As the weather warms and invites us all to spend more time outdoors, keep on the lookout for exciting new observations. If you can, pick a spot in your yard or favorite spot in nature and visit it regularly for signs of wildlife. For me, I have decided to check a forested path below my house for tracks and scat and regularly watch my garden for insect activity. I have already recorded three different bumble bee species visiting the flowers—who knows what might be next!

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

Today, I want to expand on a topic I covered a couple months back: identifying. If you’re new to Tech Tip Tuesdays, I recommend checking out my first post on using Identify. It will walk you through the basics and help you get started.

iNaturalist use has undoubtedly increased over the past few months. At the Vermont Atlas of Life, we have seen our observations jump by nearly 20,000 over the last month. With this increase in observations, we need even more people jumping in to help with identifications in order to keep up!

When I suggest adding identifications, one of the responses I often receive is “I’m not an expert in a particular species. How can I help?”. When it comes to identifying, there’s a place for everyone, even if you don’t consider yourself an expert. Below, I have listed some suggestions of different ways to get involved in iNaturalist as an identifier.

First, pick a target. While it may feel easier to randomly search through the observations, it will likely be more helpful to have a focus when you’re getting started. Start by choosing a particular species or broader taxonomic group and move on from there.

Start with the basics. You might be surprised to know that there are a lot of observations out there without even a basic identification, such as plant, animal, or fungi. If you’re feeling uncertain about identifications, start here. You can find all the observations labeled as “Unknown” and help them progress towards a species-level identification just by adding “plant”, “animal”, or “fungi” where relevant.

Stick with the familiar. I bet there are at least a couple common species that you recognize well enough to identify. Even identifications for American Robins, Grey Squirrels, and Striped Skunks need verification. Just pick your favorite common, easily recognizable species and start adding identifications!

Look for the gardens. If you’re uncomfortable helping with identifications, you can also use the identify tool to add “captive/cultivated” designations to observations that need them. Look for common garden plants, such as daffodils or tomatoes. Or, you can also add the same label to pictures of people’s pets.

Add additional information. As I’ve mentioned before, annotations are important to fill out because they provide additional information about the individual you observed that can help scientists track long-term species-level trends. Annotations, especially those for plant phenology, are relatively easy to fill out, making them a simple way to drastically improve an observation’s quality.

Double check. You can also search for observations that are already marked as research grade. While these are often correct, there are instances where a misidentified observation will sneak through. This creates misleading data and needs to be corrected. Go through research grade observations for a specific species and look for outliers. If you check for an easy to identify species, it should be fairly obvious when it’s identified incorrectly.

These tips are by no means the only ways to use Identify, however I hope they inspire you to get involved!

TTT Task of the Week

This week, I want you to practice using Identify by applying a couple of the tips listed above. The main point that I hope you take away is that anyone can use identify, regardless of skill level. If you’re interested in resources that will help you learn how to identify a particular species or group, check out our identification resources.

That’s all for this week! Thanks for helping us map Vermont’s biodiversity, stay safe, and happy observing!

Posted by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2, May 19, 2020 16:41

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