Last updated

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Type of site
Citizen science
Available in Albanian, Arabic, Basque, Breton, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Czech, English, Estonian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Galician, German, Greek, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Luxembourgish, Macedonian, Occitan, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish
Owner California Academy of Sciences [1]
11 years ago
 (2008) [1]
Current statusOnline

iNaturalist is a citizen science project and online social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe. [2] iNaturalist may be accessed via its website or from its mobile applications. [3] [4] Observations recorded with iNaturalist provide valuable open data to scientific research projects, conservation agencies, other organizations, and the public. [5] [6] [7] The project has been called "a standard-bearer for natural history mobile applications." [8]

Citizen science scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists

Citizen science is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur scientists. Citizen science is sometimes described as "public participation in scientific research," participatory monitoring, and participatory action research whose outcomes are often advancements in scientific research, as well as an increase in the public’s understanding of science.

Biodiversity Variety and variability of life forms

Biodiversity refers to the variety and variability of life on Earth. Biodiversity is typically a measure of variation at the genetic, species, and ecosystem level. Terrestrial biodiversity is usually greater near the equator, which is the result of the warm climate and high primary productivity. Biodiversity is not distributed evenly on Earth, and is richest in the tropics. These tropical forest ecosystems cover less than 10 percent of earth's surface, and contain about 90 percent of the world's species. Marine biodiversity is usually highest along coasts in the Western Pacific, where sea surface temperature is highest, and in the mid-latitudinal band in all oceans. There are latitudinal gradients in species diversity. Biodiversity generally tends to cluster in hotspots, and has been increasing through time, but will be likely to slow in the future.

A mobile app or mobile application is a computer program or software application designed to run on a mobile device such as a phone/tablet or watch. Apps were originally intended for productivity assistance such as Email, calendar, and contact databases, but the public demand for apps caused rapid expansion into other areas such as mobile games, factory automation, GPS and location-based services, order-tracking, and ticket purchases, so that there are now millions of apps available. Apps are generally downloaded from application distribution platforms which are operated by the owner of the mobile operating system, such as the App Store (iOS) or Google Play Store. Some apps are free, and others have a price, with the profit being split between the application's creator and the distribution platform. Mobile applications often stand in contrast to desktop applications which are designed to run on desktop computers, and web applications which run in mobile web browsers rather than directly on the mobile device.


History began in 2008 as a UC Berkeley School of Information Master's final project of Nate Agrin, Jessica Kline, and Ken-ichi Ueda. [1] Nate Agrin and Ken-ichi Ueda continued work on the site with Sean McGregor, a web developer. In 2011, Ueda began collaboration with Scott Loarie, a research fellow at Stanford University and lecturer at UC Berkeley. Ueda and Loarie are the current co-directors of The organization merged with the California Academy of Sciences on April 24, 2014. [9] In 2014, iNaturalist celebrated its one millionth observation. [10] In 2017, iNaturalist became a joint initiative between the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. [11]

University of California, Berkeley Public university in California, USA

The University of California, Berkeley is a public research university in Berkeley, California. It was founded in 1868 and serves as the flagship institution of the ten research universities affiliated with the University of California system. Berkeley has since grown to instruct over 40,000 students in approximately 350 undergraduate and graduate degree programs covering numerous disciplines.

Stanford University private research university located in Stanford, California, United States

Leland Stanford Junior University is a private research university in Stanford, California. Stanford is known for its academic strength, wealth, proximity to Silicon Valley, and ranking as one of the world's top universities.

California Academy of Sciences natural history museum in San Francisco

The California Academy of Sciences is a research institute and natural history museum in San Francisco, California, that is among the largest museums of natural history in the world, housing over 46 million specimens. The Academy began in 1853 as a learned society and still carries out a large amount of original research. It is California's oldest museum.


The iNaturalist platform is based on crowdsourcing of data. An iNaturalist observation records an encounter with an individual organism at a particular time and place. [12] In addition to recording actual audio and photos of the organism, an iNaturalist observation may also record evidence of an organism, such as animal tracks, nests, and scat, but the scope of iNaturalist excludes natural but inert subjects such as geologic or hydrologic features. Users typically upload photos as evidence of their findings, though audio recordings are also accepted and such evidence is not a strict requirement. Users may share observation locations publicly, "obscure" them to display a less precise location, or make the locations private.

Crowdsourcing is a sourcing model in which individuals or organizations obtain goods and services, including ideas and finances, from a large, relatively open and often rapidly-evolving group of internet users; it divides work between participants to achieve a cumulative result. The word crowdsourcing itself is a portmanteau of crowd and outsourcing, and was coined in 2005. As a mode of sourcing, crowdsourcing existed prior to the digital age.

Geology The study of the composition, structure, physical properties, and history of Earths components, and the processes by which they are shaped.

Geology is an earth science concerned with the solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change over time. Geology can also include the study of the solid features of any terrestrial planet or natural satellite such as Mars or the Moon. Modern geology significantly overlaps all other earth sciences, including hydrology and the atmospheric sciences, and so is treated as one major aspect of integrated earth system science and planetary science.

Hydrology The science of the movement, distribution, and quality of water on Earth and other planets

Hydrology is the scientific study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water on Earth and other planets, including the water cycle, water resources and environmental watershed sustainability. A practitioner of hydrology is a hydrologist, working within the fields of earth or environmental science, physical geography, geology or civil and environmental engineering. Using various analytical methods and scientific techniques, they collect and analyze data to help solve water related problems such as environmental preservation, natural disasters, and water management.

On iNaturalist, other users add identifications to each other's observations in order to confirm or improve the "community identification." Observations are classified as "casual," "needs ID" (needs identification), or "research grade" based on the quality of the data provided and the community identification process. "Research grade" observations are incorporated into other online databases such as The Global Biodiversity Information Facility. [6] Users have the option to license their observations, photos, and audio recordings in several ways, including for the public domain, Creative Commons, or with all rights reserved.

Global Biodiversity Information Facility aggregator of scientific data on biodiversity; data portal

The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) is an international organisation that focuses on making scientific data on biodiversity available via the Internet using web services. The data are provided by many institutions from around the world; GBIF's information architecture makes these data accessible and searchable through a single portal. Data available through the GBIF portal are primarily distribution data on plants, animals, fungi, and microbes for the world, and scientific names data.

The public domain consists of all the creative works to which no exclusive intellectual property rights apply. Those rights may have expired, been forfeited, expressly waived, or may be inapplicable.

Creative Commons (CC) is an American non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. The organization has released several copyright-licenses, known as Creative Commons licenses, free of charge to the public. These licenses allow creators to communicate which rights they reserve and which rights they waive for the benefit of recipients or other creators. An easy-to-understand one-page explanation of rights, with associated visual symbols, explains the specifics of each Creative Commons license. Creative Commons licenses do not replace copyright but are based upon it. They replace individual negotiations for specific rights between copyright owner (licensor) and licensee, which are necessary under an "all rights reserved" copyright management, with a "some rights reserved" management employing standardized licenses for re-use cases where no commercial compensation is sought by the copyright owner. The result is an agile, low-overhead and low-cost copyright-management regime, benefiting both copyright owners and licensees.

Using the iNaturalist app Using the iNaturalist app in the field.png
Using the iNaturalist app

Automated species identification

In addition to observations being identified by others in the community, iNaturalist includes an automated species identification computer vision tool. [13] Images can be identified via an artificial intelligence model which has been trained on the large database of the "research grade" observations on iNaturalist. A broader taxon such as a genus or family is typically provided if the model cannot decide what the species is. If the image has poor lighting, is blurry, or contains multiple subjects, it can be difficult for the model to determine the species and it may decide incorrectly. Multiple species suggestions are typically provided; the suggestion that the software believes to be most likely is at the top of the list.

Automated species identification is a method of making the expertise of taxonomists available to ecologists, parataxonomists and others via digital technology and artificial intelligence. Today, most automated identification systems rely on images depicting the species for the identification. Based on precisely identified images of a species, a classifier is trained. Once exposed to a sufficient amount of training data, this classifier can then identify the trained species on previously unseen images. Accurate species identification is the basis for all aspects of taxonomic research and is an essential component of workflows in biological research.

Computer vision is an interdisciplinary scientific field that deals with how computers can be made to gain high-level understanding from digital images or videos. From the perspective of engineering, it seeks to automate tasks that the human visual system can do.

In computer science, artificial intelligence (AI), sometimes called machine intelligence, is intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence displayed by humans and animals. Colloquially, the term "artificial intelligence" is used to describe machines that mimic "cognitive" functions that humans associate with other human minds, such as "learning" and "problem solving".


As of 4 October 2018, iNaturalist users contributed over 15,900,000 observations of plants, animals, and other organisms worldwide, with over 88,000 users active in the previous 30 days. [14] iNaturalist is the preferred application for crowd-sourced biodiversity data in Mexico and southern Africa. [15] [16]

Users have created and contributed to thousands of different projects on iNaturalist. [17] The platform is commonly used to record observations during bioblitzes, which are biological surveying events that attempt to record all the species that occur within a designated area, and a specific project type on iNaturalist. [18] [19] [20] Other project types include collections of observations by location or taxon, or documenting specific types of observations such as animal tracks and signs, [21] the spread of invasive species, roadkill, [22] fishing catches, or discovering new species. [23] In 2011, iNaturalist was used as a platform to power the Global Amphibian and Global Reptile BioBlitzes, in which observations were used to help monitor the occurrence and distribution of the world's reptiles and amphibian species. [24] The US National Park Service partnered with iNaturalist to record observations from the 2016 National Parks BioBlitz. That project exceeded 100,000 observations in August 2016. [18] In 2017, the United Nations Environment Programme teamed up with iNaturalist to celebrate World Environment Day. [25]

The City Nature Challenge

In 2016, Lila Higgins from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and Alison Young from the California Academy of Sciences co-founded the City Nature Challenge. In the first City Nature Challenge, naturalists in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area documented over 20,000 observations with the iNaturalist platform. [26] In 2017, the challenge expanded to 16 cities [27] across the United States and collected over 125,000 observations of wildlife in 5 days.

In 2018, the challenge expanded to a global audience, with 68 cities participating from 19 countries, with some cities using community science platforms other than iNaturalist to participate. [19] In 4 days, over 17,000 people cataloged over 440,000 nature observations in urban regions around the world. [28]

In 2019, the challenge once again expanded. This time 159 cities were involved, and 35,126 participants were engaged in collecting 963,773 observations of over 31,000 species [29] .


Users can interact with iNaturalist in several ways:

On the website, visitors can search the public data set and interact with the individuals adding observations and identifications. The website provides tools for registered users to discuss and confirm organism identifications. Users can also create project pages to recruit participation in and coordinate work on their topics of interest. [32]

On the primary iNaturalist mobile app, registered users can contribute nature observations to the public, online dataset. Seek, which was designed for children and families, requires no online account registration and all observations remain private. [33] The automated species identification feature is included in both apps. [34] [35] Seek incorporates features of gamification, such as providing a list of nearby organisms to find and encouraging the collection of badges by doing so. [35] Seek was initially released in the spring of 2018. [33]

See also

Related Research Articles

BioBlitz citizen science project

A BioBlitz, also written without capitals as bioblitz, is an intense period of biological surveying in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area. Groups of scientists, naturalists and volunteers conduct an intensive field study over a continuous time period. There is a public component to many BioBlitzes, with the goal of getting the public interested in biodiversity. To encourage more public participation, these BioBlitzes are often held in urban parks or nature reserves close to cities.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a member-supported unit of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York which studies birds and other wildlife. It is housed in the Imogene Powers Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity in Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary. Approximately 250 scientists, professors, staff, and students work in a variety of programs devoted to the Lab's mission: interpreting and conserving the Earth's biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Work at the Lab is supported primarily by its 75,000 members. The Cornell Lab publishes books under the Cornell Lab Publishing Group, a quarterly publication, Living Bird magazine, and a monthly electronic newsletter. It manages numerous citizen-science projects and websites, including the Webby Award-winning All About Birds.

<i>Thysania agrippina</i> species of insect

Thysania agrippina is a species of moth in the Erebidae family. The most commonly accepted common name is white witch. Other common names include mariposa emperador, ghost moth, great grey witch, and great owlet moth. Thysania agrippina is of interest as a competitor for title of "largest insect." This may be true by the measure of wingspan--a Brazilian specimen with a wingspan of almost 30 cm (12 in) appears to hold the record. The Atlas moth and Hercules moth, however, have greater wing areas. The white witch occurs from Uruguay to Mexico, and appears as a stray as far north as Texas in the U.S. Collection dates shows no discernible pattern with respect to location or season.

Biodiversity Informatics is the application of informatics techniques to biodiversity information for improved management, presentation, discovery, exploration and analysis. It typically builds on a foundation of taxonomic, biogeographic, or ecological information stored in digital form, which, with the application of modern computer techniques, can yield new ways to view and analyse existing information, as well as predictive models for information that does not yet exist. Biodiversity informatics is a relatively young discipline but has hundreds of practitioners worldwide, including the numerous individuals involved with the design and construction of taxonomic databases. The term "Biodiversity Informatics" is generally used in the broad sense to apply to computerized handling of any biodiversity information; the somewhat broader term "bioinformatics" is often used synonymously with the computerized handling of data in the specialized area of molecular biology.

Catalogue of Life Online database and index of taxa

The Catalogue of Life is an online database that provides the world’s most comprehensive and authoritative index of known species of animals, plants, fungi and micro-organisms. It was created in 2001 as a partnership between the global Species 2000 and the American Integrated Taxonomic Information System. The Catalogue interface is available in twelve languages and is used by research scientists, citizen scientists, educators, and policy makers. The Catalogue is also used by the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the Barcode of Life Data System, Encyclopedia of Life, and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. The Catalogue currently compiles data from 168 peer-reviewed taxonomic databases, that are maintained by specialist institutions around the world. As of 2018, the Catalogue lists 1,744,204 of the world's 2.2m extant species known to taxonomists on the planet at present time.

<i>Encyclopedia of Life</i> collaborative project intended to create an encyclopedia documenting all living species known to science

The Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) is a free, online collaborative encyclopedia intended to document all of the 1.9 million living species known to science. It is compiled from existing databases and from contributions by experts and non-experts throughout the world. It aims to build one "infinitely expandable" page for each species, including video, sound, images, graphics, as well as text. In addition, the Encyclopedia incorporates content from the Biodiversity Heritage Library, which digitizes millions of pages of printed literature from the world's major natural history libraries. The project was initially backed by a US$50 million funding commitment, led by the MacArthur Foundation and the Sloan Foundation, who provided US$20 million and US$5 million, respectively. The additional US$25 million came from five cornerstone institutions—the Field Museum, Harvard University, the Marine Biological Laboratory, the Missouri Botanical Garden, and the Smithsonian Institution. The project was initially led by Jim Edwards and the development team by David Patterson. Today, participating institutions and individual donors continue to support EOL through financial contributions.

eBird online database of bird observations

eBird is an online database of bird observations providing scientists, researchers and amateur naturalists with real-time data about bird distribution and abundance. Originally restricted to sightings from the Western Hemisphere, the project expanded to include New Zealand in 2008, and again expanded to cover the whole world in June 2010. eBird has been described as an ambitious example of enlisting amateurs to gather data on biodiversity for use in science.

Project Noah is an online community dedicated to explore and document wildlife across the globe. "Noah" is an acronym for "networked organisms and habitats".

BugGuide is a website and online community of naturalists, both amateur and professional, who share observations of insects, spiders, and other related creatures. The website consists of informational guide pages and many thousands of photographs of arthropods from the United States and Canada which are used for identification and research. The non-commercial site is hosted by the Iowa State University Department of Entomology. BugGuide was conceived by photographer Troy Bartlett in 2003 and since 2006 has been maintained by Dr. John VanDyk, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Entomology and Senior Systems Analyst at Iowa State University. The website has been recognized for helping change public perception of insects.

The Reptile Database is a scientific database that collects taxonomic information on all living reptile species. The database focuses on species and has entries for all currently recognized ~13,000 species and their subspecies, although there is usually a lag time of up to a few months before newly described species become available online. The database collects scientific and common names, synonyms, literature references, distribution information, type information, etymology, and other taxonomically relevant information.

iSpot citizen science project

iSpot is a website developed and hosted by the Open University with funding from the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network with an online community intended to connect nature enthusiasts of all levels.

eButterfly is an online database of butterfly observations that collects data on butterfly abundance, distribution and phenology across North America. Naturalists, entomologists and other citizen scientists contribute observations in checklist form and the aggregated information is available through mapping and queries tools on eButterfly. eButterfly has a vetting system where a group of regional experts review submissions to ensure that the quality of data remains high. Photos can be added to any observation and eButterfly supports life lists and photo libraries for users.

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) is an organisation under the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, tasked with research and dissemination of information on biodiversity.

QuestaGame, launched in 2014 in Canberra, Australia, is a mobile app game for photographing and identifying fauna, flora, and fungi. Sightings are verified by experts and gain points for players. The game leverages citizen science to help document species occurrences, adding data to databases such as Atlas of Living Australia. Ranger Vision is a classroom version.

The City Nature Challenge is an annual, global, community science competition to document urban biodiversity. The challenge is a bioblitz that engages residents and visitors to find and document plants, animals, and other organisms living in urban areas. The goals are to engage the public in the collection of biodiversity data, with three awards each year for the cities that makes the most observations, find the most species, and engage the most people.

SeaKeys Collaborative marine biodiversity project in South Africa

SeaKeys is a large collaborative marine biodiversity project funded through the Foundational Biodiversity Information Program in South Africa. The purpose of the project is to collect and distribute genetic, species and ecosystem information relating to marine biodiversity in southern Africa, which may be used to support informed decision-making about the marine environment.

This is a list of Vascular plant species occurring in Tsimanampetesotsa National Park, Madagascar.


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