‘iNaturalist’ app allows users to contribute to scientific research by submitting photos

Photos taken on cell phones can help identify plant and animal species

“iNaturalist” app allows users to contribute to scientific research by submitting photos

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Engaging in scientific study may be as simple as snapping a picture on your phone. Stephen F. Austin University Forestry students say an app called iNaturalist is allowing users to contribute to their research by capturing photos of plant and animal life. The app uses the photo and its location to compare submissions with findings from other scientists.

“When you take a picture, the photo is automatically geo-referenced, so it knows where you took that picture," Forestry student Jessica Mattox said. "So when you upload it in this app, it has your location already and it helps recognize what species it might be.”

SFA Forestry students and faculty say they have been able to use this app in their research and in bio-blitzes, where they introduce visitors to various plant and animal species. They say the app is easy to use and that anyone can use it to contribute to scientific study.

“You’re able to document and learn about absolutely anything from mammals to herpetology, like lizards and snakes, to plants, fungus, worms, insects, absolutely anything,” Mattox said.

Even if you’re not conducting research yourself, snapping a picture on your next venture in the woods could contribute to the research of someone else.

“If you get three people to confirm what species you found, it’s research-grade and other scientists can use that,” Mattox said.

The forestry department plans to use results from citizen scientists to compare findings of this year’s bio-blitz to previous ones. They say this allows them to monitor the changes in plant and animal life in East Texas, and to continue promoting education and conservation.

“You can also see how important it is for here at the native plant center - how important conservation is because without conservation and the constant care that’s done here, a lot of these species may not be here,” Mattox said.

The next SFA bio blitz won’t be until next spring, but the iNaturalist app can be downloaded and used at any time to log findings and join scientific discussion.

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