Using iNaturalist and eBird to Support Conservation
Both platforms are online databases that gather recorded observations from people all over the world. They generate data which is accessible to the public, educators and scientists. Although the focus of the observations differ between iNaturalist and eBird, they both provide valuable data for research and conservation purposes.
iNaturalist was launched in 2008 and over 50 million observations have been submitted. Observations from iNaturalist provide data on species presence and distribution.
It is a worthy tool to help users identify plants and animals, no matter what their level of expertise is. A Research Grade observation includes a picture or sound of an organism of interest, date, geo-location and is identified to the lowest taxonomic level by experts within the iNaturalist community. Thus, you learn the identity of the plant or animal and your Research Grade observation is shared with the global community.
Specific Projects can be created within iNaturalist where many people can contribute their observations. For example, in the Peterborough area projects have been created to inventory the species in Harper Park, Camp Kawartha Environment Centre, Jackson Park, Beavermead Park and Meade Creek. This provides an overview of the biodiversity and sometimes a species at risk or an unexpected species is identified. The goal of another Project, The Ontario Wild Turkey Count, is to estimate the size of Ontario’s reintroduced wild turkey population. A new trend of biodiversity research is emerging that is based on evidence from the iNaturalist photos. For example, Snowshoe Hare in Ontario is a project intended to gauge the southern range limit of snowshoe hares in Ontario as well as the timing of their coat colour change and how this is related to snowfall.
The eBird platform was created in 2002 and over 850 million observations of bird sightings have been submitted. A completed observation is a checklist of an outing that includes a count of all birds seen and heard, a geolocation, length of time and distance travelled. Observation checklists in eBird provide data for studies on species’ distribution, habitat use, abundance and population trends.
The eBird website is rich with information that is accessible and downloadable. For example, the animated migratory journey of 800 species is illustrated revealing where and when to expect each species along their journey. Annual seasonal abundance maps, range maps, bar charts, line graphs, hotspots, photos, bird song are available.
A research team from the Cornell Lab wanted to learn how eBird data was being used and sent out surveys to users who accessed eBird data. They documented 159 examples worldwide where the data was used for research and monitoring conservation areas and species, conservation planning, habitat and species management and protection and even making policy decisions and laws in various parts of the world. One-third of the responses were from private citizens rather than academics, working on conservation action at the local level. In 2020 92 publications were completed that made use of eBird data.
Citizen Scientists play a major role in providing observations to iNaturalist and eBird where data is collected and shared. The information is being used to guide conservation decisions across the world. As an added bonus the citizen scientist connects with nature and reaps the health benefits.