Last updated
INaturalist logo.png
Type of site
Citizen science
Available in37 languages
Area servedWorldwide
Owner California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society
Founder(s) Ken-ichi Ueda, Nate Agrin, Jessica Kline
Users Increase2.svg 2.5 million registered users (December 2021) [1]
Launched2008;14 years ago (2008)
Current statusActive

iNaturalist is a social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe. [2] [3] iNaturalist may be accessed via its website or from its mobile applications. [4] [5] As of February 2021, iNaturalist users had contributed approximately 66 million observations of plants, animals, fungi, and other organisms worldwide, and around 130,000 users were active in the previous 30 days. [6]


iNaturalist describes itself as "an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature", with its primary goal being to connect people to nature. [7] Although it is not a science project itself, iNaturalist is a platform for science and conservation efforts, providing valuable open data to research projects, land managers, other organizations, and the public. [7] [8] It is the primary application for crowd-sourced biodiversity data in places such as Mexico, southern Africa, and Australia, [9] [10] [11] and the project has been called "a standard-bearer for natural history mobile applications." [12]


iNaturalist began in 2008 as a UC Berkeley School of Information Master's final project of Nate Agrin, Jessica Kline, and Ken-ichi Ueda. [2] 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 [2] The organization merged with the California Academy of Sciences on April 24, 2014. [13] In 2017, iNaturalist became a joint initiative between the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. [2]

Since 2012, the number of participants and observations has roughly doubled each year. [14] In 2014, iNaturalist reached 1 million observations [15] and as of December 2021 there were 99 million observations. [6]


Photographing Asclepias amplexicaulis at Nachusa Grasslands.jpg
Taking a photo of Asclepias amplexicaulis (clasping milkweed) for iNaturalist
Screenshot of an iNaturalist observation (cassi saari - Asclepias amplexicalis).png
Screenshot of an observation at with CC-BY photo license type indicated

Users can interact with iNaturalist in several ways:

Seek's home page, showing local species and the Challenge for November 2021. Seek-home.png
Seek's home page, showing local species and the Challenge for November 2021.

On the website, visitors can search the public dataset and interact with other people adding observations and identifications. The website provides tools for registered users to add, identify, and discuss observations, write journal posts, explore information about species, and create project pages to recruit participation in and coordinate work on their topics of interest. [18] [19] [20]

On the iNaturalist mobile app, registered users can create and share nature observations to the online dataset, explore nearby observations, and learn about different species. [18] [21]

Seek by iNaturalist, a separate app designed for children and families, requires no online account registration and all observations may remain private. [22] Seek incorporates features of gamification, such as providing a list of nearby organisms to find and encouraging the collection of badges and participation in challenges. [23] Seek was initially released in the spring of 2018. [22]


The iNaturalist platform is based on crowdsourcing of observations and identifications. An iNaturalist observation records a person's encounter with an individual organism at a particular time and place. [18] An iNaturalist observation may also record evidence of an organism, such as animal tracks, nests, or scat. 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 completely private.

On iNaturalist, other users add identifications and comments to each other's observations in order to confirm or improve the identification of the observation. [24] 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. Any quality of data can be downloaded from iNaturalist and "Research Grade" observations are often incorporated into other online databases such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and the Atlas of Living Australia. [8] [25]

Automated species identification

In addition to observations being identified by others in the community, iNaturalist includes an automated species identification tool, first released in 2017. [26] Images can be identified via a computer vision model which has been trained on the large database of the observations on iNaturalist. [18] If the image is of a little-observed species, one hard to identify from images alone, or it 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 with the suggestion that the software guesses to be most likely is at the top of the list. A broader taxon such as a genus or family is commonly provided if the model cannot decide what the species is. The model is trained once or twice a year and the threshold for species included in the training set has changed over time. [27] However, this causes a technical restriction that videos are refrained from uploading due to problematic automated species identification processes, and in May 21, 2021, iNaturalist staff Tony Iwane stated on the iNaturalist fourm that "it’s likely we won’t support animated GIFs in the future", [28] while co-founder Ken-ichi Ueda said that accepting video is " a heavy (and potential expensive) lift". [29]


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

Users have created and contributed to tens of thousands of different projects on iNaturalist. [6] [30] 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. [31] [32] [33] Other project types include collections of observations by location or taxon, or documenting specific types of observations such as animal tracks and signs, [34] the spread of invasive species, roadkill, [35] fishing catches, or discovering new species. [19] 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. [36] 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. [31] In 2017, the United Nations Environment Programme teamed up with iNaturalist to celebrate World Environment Day. [37]

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 (CNC). 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. [38] In 2017, the CNC expanded to 16 cities across the United States and collected over 125,000 observations of wildlife in 5 days. [39] The CNC expanded to a global audience in 2018, with 68 cities participating from 19 countries, with some cities using community science platforms other than iNaturalist to participate. [32] In 4 days, over 17,000 people cataloged over 440,000 nature observations in urban regions around the world. [40] In 2019, the CNC once again expanded, with 35,000 participants in 159 cities collecting 964,000 observations of over 31,000 species. [32] Although fewer observations were documented during the 2020 City Nature Challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic (when the CNC became collaborative as opposed to competitive), more cities and people participated and more species were found than in previous years. [41]


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. To encourage the sharing of information and to reduce costs, iNaturalist encourages users to license media with Creative Commons licenses. [42] The default license is CC BY-NC, [42] meaning others are free to copy, redistribute, remix, transform, and build upon the media as long as appropriate credit is given, changes are indicated, a link to the license is provided, and it is not used for commercial purposes. [43]

Observations and media licensed with Creative Commons licenses are often shared elsewhere, including the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (excluding share-alike and no derivatives licenses), [44] Atlas of Living Australia, [45] and Wikipedia (excluding noncommercial and no derivatives licenses) [46] through regular imports [18] [45] or user scripts such as iNaturalist2Commons [47] and Wiki Loves iNaturalist. [48]

The iNaturalist website and mobile apps are free software released under the MIT License. [49] [50]

Research using iNaturalist data

As of January 2022, more than 2,000 research results have been published that cite the iNaturalist research-grade observations hosted on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). [51] The majority of research results have been journal articles related to ecology, conservation, and climate change. [51] Many articles focus on climate-driven range shifts and expansions. For example, in 2015, data from iNaturalist was used to show that the Hopkin’s rose nudibranch is moving northward. [52] Other articles focus on the description of new species or rediscovery of species previously considered extinct. For example, a species of snail, Myxostoma petiverianum , first described in the 1700s, was also rediscovered in Vietnam. [53] Additionally, in 2013, a citizen scientist in Colombia uploaded a photo of a poison dart frog, which researchers determined was a previously-unrecognized species now known as Andinobates cassidyhornae . [54] [55] Other research has focused on the morphology or coloration of species observations. For example, a study in 2019 assessed the relationship between wing coloration and temperature in the dragonfly species Pachydiplax longipennis . [56]


Related Research Articles

E. O. Wilson American biologist, naturalist, and writer

Edward Osborne Wilson was an American biologist, naturalist, and writer. His specialty was myrmecology, the study of ants, on which he was called the world's leading expert, and he was nicknamed Ant Man.

Biodiversity Variety and variability of life forms

Biodiversity is the biological variety and variability of life on Earth. Biodiversity is 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 richer in the tropics. These tropical forest ecosystems cover less than ten percent of earth's surface, and contain about ninety percent of the world's species. Marine biodiversity is usually higher 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 as a primary result of deforestation. It encompasses the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life.


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.

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 by improving the scientific community's capacity, as well as increasing the public's understanding of science.

Biodiversity informatics is the application of informatics techniques to biodiversity information, such as taxonomy, biogeography or ecology. Modern computer techniques can yield new ways to view and analyze existing information, as well as predict future situations. Biodiversity informatics is a term that was only coined around 1992 but with rapidly increasing data sets has become useful in numerous studies and applications, such as the construction of taxonomic databases or geographic information systems. Biodiversity informatics contrasts with "bioinformatics", which is often used synonymously with the computerized handling of data in the specialized area of molecular biology.

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.

The Catalogue of Life is an online database that provides an index of known species of animals, plants, fungi, and microorganisms. 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 June 2021, the Catalogue lists 1,997,284 of the world's 2.2m extant species known to taxonomists on the planet at present time.

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.

xeno-canto is a citizen science project and repository in which volunteers record, upload and annotate recordings of birdsong and bird calls. Since it began in 2005, it has collected over 575,000 sound recordings from more than 10,000 species worldwide, and has become one of the biggest collections of bird sounds in the world. All the recordings are published under one of the Creative Commons licenses, including some with open licences. Each recording on the website is accompanied by a spectrogram and location data on a map displaying geographical variation.

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 Web-based citizen science biodiversity 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.

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) is an organisation established in 2004 in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, No 10 of 2004, under the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, tasked with research and dissemination of information on biodiversity, and legally mandated to contribute to the management of the country’s biodiversity resources.

Fungal Diversity Survey

Fungal Diversity Survey, or FunDiS, is a nonprofit citizen science organization formerly known as North American Mycoflora Project, Inc. FunDiS aims to document the diversity and distribution of fungi across North America “in order to increase awareness of their critical role in the health of ecosystems and allow us to better protect them in a world of rapid climate change and habitat loss.” The project encourages amateurs, working with professionals, to contribute observations to online databases vetted by experts, and to collect and document fungi for DNA barcoding. Fungal Diversity Survey, Inc. is a Charitable 501(c)(3) organization registered in Indiana, USA.

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. QuestaGame has been reported as driving citizen science by mapping biodiversity, discovering new species, and averting biosecurity risks.

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.

<i>Orobanche reticulata</i> Species of flowering plant

Orobanche reticulata is a species of broomrape known by the common name thistle broomrape. It is a parasitic plant whose host is normally the creeping thistle. It is native to the lowlands of Western Europe and Central Asia, but in the United Kingdom it is a rare and protected plant, growing only in Yorkshire, on grassland sites such as Quarry Moor.

Bhutan Biodiversity Portal App and website for sharing biodiversity observations

Bhutan Biodiversity Portal(འབྲུག་སྐྱེ་ལྡན་རིགས་སྣ་འཆར་སྒོ།) is a consortium based citizen science website comprising key biodiversity data generating agencies and can be used by anyone. The portal is an official online repository of data on Bhutanese biodiversity. Citizen science platform is a citizen science web portal developed by the Community Environmental Health Lab at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. supports projects in the collection of observational data, primarily in environmental science, biology, and public health. Anecdata was founded in 2014 to provide a data management system for the citizen science projects run by the Community Environmental Health Lab and has since expanded to include more than 200 projects, where more than 8,000 registered users have contributed over 30,000 images and more than 50,000 observations. In addition to the desktop site, there is a corresponding mobile app that can be used to submit observations to existing projects. also acts as a data repository where data can be stored, discovered, and shared to other users.


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