September 06, 2016

iNaturalist training material

A quick update just to let you know that we have posted up some training material to help you get started on iNaturalist and to point you in the right direction for some other features of iNat such as developing identification guides and bioblitz events.

You can find the material on the KMCC blog here>> TRAINING PACK

You can find pdf and powerpoint files as well as some you tube screencasts in three languages: English, French and Malagasy.

Please share the link with iNaturalist newbies to help them get up and running.

Happy naturalising!

iNaturalist ZavGasy

Posted on September 06, 2016 23:03 by stevenkew stevenkew | 1 comment | Leave a comment

December 30, 2015

Improving identification success in 2016

In just over a year Zavamaniry Gasy has matured as a valuable research tool and has succeeded in engaging a wide range of botanists, both amateur and professional, in the task of recording Madagascar’s flora to help conservation. At the time of writing, 30 December 2015, a total of 1419 species (10% of the flora) have been recorded and photographed, with the records available through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility ( as well as iNaturalist. This is a great start, but there is definitely room for improvement!

Zavamaniry Gasy currently has 3774 observations representing the 1419 species. Of the 3774 observations only 960 (25%) have research grade identifications. Even with high quality herbarium specimens it can be difficult to identify Madagascan plants due to the background species richness, sparse herbarium collections, incomplete literature and numerous taxonomic uncertainties. Identifying plants from photos is even more difficult as it involves matching images of colourful, living, 3-dimensional plants with dull brown, pressed and dried, 2-dimensional, herbarium specimens. So for a Zavamaniry Gasy observation to be identifiable, the photos have to be as complete and as high quality as possible.

When I have attempted to identify observations on Zavamaniry Gasy, many of the photos and associated data are tantalisingly incomplete for confident identification. I believe that with just slightly more effort from observers, we can significantly increase the proportion of identifiable observations and dramatically increase the numbers of recorded species. We should be aiming for identification success that is closer to 75%.

The following are the photos needed for a complete observation:

  1. Habit
  2. Leaves showing the topside and the underside.
  3. Flowers and fruits.
  4. Spot characters, e.g. buttresses, bark, glands, exudate, stipules, spines and tendrils.

iNaturalist allows for multiple photos to be linked to one observation, and you will need to take at least 3 photos to adequately portray a plant. A photo of a pretty flower is not sufficient if the identifier has no clue about the leaves or the habit. You have to think about the information needed for an identification and make sure that it is captured in either the photos or the accompanying observation notes. Are the leaves simple or compound? Are the leaves opposite, alternate or whorled? Are there stipules or stipule scars? Is the plant a tree, shrub, herb, climber or epiphyte? How tall is it? How long are the leaves? Is there exudate from the trunk or the leaves, e.g. white latex? Are there glands on the leaves? What is the habitat, e.g. on a rock, in water, up a tree, in open savanna or a dark humid forest? It is too easy to just snap a quick photo of a flower and think that the job is done. The iNaturalist observer must think like a botanist, not like a tourist.

Here is an example that would be relatively easy to identify:

Tree 4m tall, humid forest, leaves alternate & 10cm long, distinct stipule scars.

The species is Dillenia triquetra (Dilleniaceae).

The camera technology in smartphones is amazing and in general, if using a smartphone, you should be able to take reasonable photos in most forest situations. Light will always be a critical factor, as the smartphone sensors are small, so for the best quality photos look for well-lit plants (if there is not enough light the photos will look grainy and blurry). Most smartphones and compact cameras can close-focus, but they do not have dedicated macro lenses. It is possible to crop photos or zoom in to see macro detail as the images from most devices will have enough pixels. If you get too close to a plant you might end-up with blurry photos, because the camera cannot focus or you are blocking too much light. If the first photos do not look good then try different angles or distances until the photos accurately portray all of the necessary features of the plant. iNaturalist is supposed to be a quick way to record biological data, but it is worth slowing down in the field and making the effort to take good photographs… most Madagascan plant species have never been photographed before!

One last point about photos, if slow internet speeds are a recurring problem then you can improve the chances of uploading images by reducing their file size. This can be done either before the photo is taken, by changing the camera or smartphone settings, or afterwards using standard photo software such as IrfanView ( However, always try to keep the maximum number of pixels for the device and just reduce the image quality (e.g. from fine to normal). The most common image format is jpeg (Joint Photographic Experts Group), which is designed to be compressed. A lower quality setting just means that the image is more compressed. This does lose some detail from the image, but a small amount of compression will not be noticeable and it can significantly reduce the file size. If you do reduce the image size in terms of pixels, then archive the unaltered original image and download a re-sized version (an image that is either 1500 pixels in height or width will be perfectly adequate for display on most computer, tablet or smartphone screens).

Finally a few thoughts about our first two bioblitzes at Analamazoatra and Mantadia, recording 160 and 72 species respectively. Frustratingly, not all of the observations made on the days were attributed to the bioblitzes. Bioblitz observations link to particular places on particular dates and observations without locality information or the date will be excluded. However, as all plant observations from Madagascar on iNaturalist are automatically attributed to Zavamaniry Gasy, these unlinked bioblitz observations still contribute to our overall totals. The first two bioblitzes were a great success, bringing together botanists from a range of organisations and achieving a huge number of observations in a short space of time. We just need to do some more now, so… happy bioblitzing in 2016!

Posted on December 30, 2015 12:47 by stucable stucable | 2 comments | Leave a comment

November 20, 2015

Vhoimana inventory using iNaturalist

Riding on the success of the Analamazaotra National Park BioBlitz, the California Academy of Science team of Rokiman and Scott joined forces to carry out an inventory of the unique biodiversity of Vohimana. Check out the video here:

Vhoimana inventory using iNaturalist from iNaturalist on Vimeo.

Posted on November 20, 2015 17:14 by stevenkew stevenkew | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 17, 2015

Botanical BioBlitz Exceeds Expectations

Well, I think we can safely say that iNaturalist has officially kicked off in Madagascar. I'm very happy to report that we have converged on a number of significant milestones for the project:

1,000 species
2,000 observations

These figures have exceeded my expectations and I’m so pleased that we are reaching a critical mass with this initiative. A collective of Malagasy botanists, from multiple institutions including the Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre (KMCC), Missouri Botanic Garden (MBG), California Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the University of Antananarivo (and many more!), have joined forces to scale up the documentation of plants on Madagascar. After some initial training, including a masterclass from Romer on how to create a guide, we set off from ‘Tana to the Analamazoatra/Perinet Reserve.

Romer Training
Romer on how to build an iNaturalist guide

Oh, and did I mention our special guest? iNaturalist’s very own Scott Loarie joined us. Scott gave us a 101 in iNaturalist and was more than happy to soak up some of the botanical wonders in the forest, and a few non-botanical wonders as well:

Scott Lemur
Scott's captures a great shot of the Common Brown Lemur

Approaching the challenge with high spirits, the team set out on a BioBlitz – possibly the first botanical BioBlitz in Madagascar? The aim was to split into groups and record as many plants as possible. The wealth of knowledge across the teams ensured a steady flow of identifications. A smart phone was assigned to each team and the Android iNaturalist app was put to through its paces.

Getting back to the hotel where the ‘wrap up’ was due to happen, it quickly became apparent that the internet was non-existent or extremely slow at best. We’d invested in a dongle to pick up some 3G, but it was clear we weren’t going to be able to upload all our observations. I think this was a useful lesson for us all. In north America and Europe we get used to being constantly connected, but in many parts of the world, getting online is still a challenge. Scott went home with a long list of things to consider for ‘offline’ functionality in the Android and iOS apps.

One thing you can be sure of in Madagascar is that whatever you do, you’ll find the Malagasy will make the best of any situation. Our trip was never short of laughter and high spirits and our new botanical task force took to the BioBlitz with great enthusiasm.

Group E in full swing - bioblitz happy

With the team already planning the next BioBlitz before we had even returned to ‘Tana it gave me great hope that we had started something special, something that would continue.

The BioBlitzers - revelation of the trip was Rokiman's cunning use of selfie stick (left of image) to get those out of reach observations - a stroke of genius!

Now, back in the office we can see the observations are rolling in. In one morning and one afternoon, we’ve amassed nearly 600 observations and nearly 100 species. This baseline data is vital for our conservation actions and the iNaturalist approach means we can ramp up our data collection. Now we can look to spreading the word to a wider audience. Interested? Get in touch.

Posted on September 17, 2015 21:37 by stevenkew stevenkew | 6 comments | Leave a comment

July 19, 2015

1,000 observations and counting!

This was supposed to be a quick update and celebration of the fact that we have passed through our first major milestone of 1,000 observations for Zavamaniry Gasy, but, at the time of writing we are now well on our way to another thousand with 1,323 observations registered. So, well done to all, especially the KMCC team who have contributed to and curated the project.

Also, a big welcome to new members and for all those either contributing new observations of Malagasy plants or for adding identifications.

So, time to delve a little deeper into the statistics. Here is a quick summary:

1) Just over a fifth of observations are 'Research' grade

2) Orchids are by a long way the most observed family:

3) Humid and Western dry Forests are the most observed vegetation types:

4) Observations are growing at a steady rate:

Posted on July 19, 2015 16:48 by stevenkew stevenkew | 7 comments | Leave a comment

February 07, 2015

New discoveries and plans for a BioBlitz!

I'm in the Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre (KMCC) this week to talk to the team here about progress on the Zavamaniry Gasy project. My last message was on 29th July 2014! I can't believe the months have flown by. I'm happy to report some impressive statistics on the project - since July we have added over 500 new observations (521 at time of writing), giving a grand total of 532 since we started. We are now up to 331 taxa and a healthy number of new members (25).

At present 'rakotoarinivo' has the highest number of observations with a stunning set of palms occurring all over Madagascar. However, he is fast being caught up by 'romer' who just posted his 100th observation. Well done guys! I particularly like a recent observation of a fungi from romer:

Blue Basidiomycota - can anyone provide an ID?!

In other news we had a meeting with our friends from Conservation International, Missouri Botanic Garden, the Rebioma Project, and the University of Antananarivo at the California Academy of Sciences office here in Antananarivo. I presented the project and we discussed plans for a collaborative BioBlitz to be held in September this year. This must be the first plant oriented BioBlitz in Madagascar! Very exciting! We'll keep you posted as the plans develop.


Posted on February 07, 2015 09:39 by stevenkew stevenkew | 2 comments | Leave a comment

July 29, 2014

Start at the beginning...

We are very pleased to announce that a new project to catalogue observations of plants in Madagascar is underway. 'Zavamainry Gasy' means Plants of Madagascar with 'Gasy' as shorthand for Madagascar, and sounding a bit more jazzy.

This project links to a wider initiative, generously funded by the JRS Biodiversity Foundation, which will focus on getting more plants from Madagascar assessed for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and more effective conservation actions. Although the plants of Madagascar are under extreme threat, very few have actually been listed for the Red List. This means we have no way of quantifying the extent of threat to plants and how this is changing through time. Through the use if iNaturalist we hope to supplement existing knowledge on plant distributions such as herbarium voucher collections through the collection of observation data. Observation data can be utilised for Red List assessments and can also help us to understand what is happening on the ground in terms of threats to plants.

We now have a few observations popping up on the project home page - thanks to those that have contributed. We have ambitious targets, so please help secure the future of Madagascan Plants by adding your observations. All native plants are welcome - common or rare!

PS. If you believe you have an observation of a rare and threatened plant such as an orchid, please make use of the geoprivacy options.


Posted on July 29, 2014 09:19 by stevenkew stevenkew | 1 comment | Leave a comment