What is the Great Southern BioBlitz 2020 and who is it run by?
For the first time in its history, Australia participated in the City Nature Challenge; a global BioBlitz run through the iNaturalist platform focused on urban biodiversity. However, the City Nature Challenge's origins in the USA mean that it runs during the Southern Hemisphere Autumn, a time period when many Australian flowers are no longer in bloom, migratory birds have left, and invertebrates are much harder to find. Coordinated by the Australian organisers of the 2020 City Nature Challenge, the Great Southern BioBlitz 2020 is an opportunity for all Southern Hemisphere countries to record organisms during Spring and showcase our beautiful biodiversity to the world.
Who runs iNaturalist?
Beginning in 2008 as a master's project by UC Berkeley students Ken-ichi Ueda, Nate Agrin and Jessica Kline, iNaturalist became an initiative of the California Academy of Sciences in 2014, and a joint initiative with the National Geographic Society in 2017. Australia has its own node on iNaturalist, and is supported by the Atlas of Living Australia online repository.
What is a BioBlitz?
A BioBlitz is a survey of biodiversity within a specified area timeframe. During this period, participants aim to find and record as many species as possible within the timeframe. BioBlitzes are a great way of learning more about the biodiversity of an area, including discovering new species and recording species range extensions.
What is iNaturalist?
iNaturalist is an online, biodiversity-focused, citizen science platform. Its main goal is to create a nature-based social network where like-minded users can share photos of interesting organisms they've observed, and then get these organisms identified through crowdsourcing and computer vision. iNaturalist has evolved over time to become a valuable biodiversity databasing tool and is used by more than one million people globally, including amateur naturalists, museum curators, and world experts in their field.
What is an observation on iNaturalist?
An observation records an encounter between a naturalist (you!) and an organism. This encounter can be with an entire organism, such as a lizard or mushroom, or with parts or traces of organisms, such as footprints, feathers or scat. Only verifiable observations will be accepted into the project, that is, observations that have:
a) a photo or sound file attached as 'evidence' of your encounter with the organism
b) a date and location (in the form of coordinates).
An observation must also be of a wild organism to be considered verifiable. This means that photos of pets, pot plants, zoo animals or flowers planted in public areas by councils will not be included in this BioBlitz.
What happens if I upload a photo of an organism, but don't know what it is?
Then you're in luck! One of iNaturalist's greatest strengths is its amazing community of users that can help you identify the cool bugs, birds and bushes you find. iNaturalist also uses an artificial intelligence system to suggest what it thinks your observation is based on similar photos. However, to help other users find your observations more easily and speed up the identification process, it's important to always add your own identification to the best level you can. Even if you can only identify something as 'plant' or 'insect', this helps your observations get seen by other users who specifically search for these groups.
Why did iNaturalist suggest the wrong species for my observation?
The important thing to keep in mind is that iNaturalist's computer vision isn't perfect. In many cases, it's an awesome, powerful tool; if I upload a decent photo of a bird (don't get your hopes up for that shot you took of a small brown bird flying 100 metres overhead), the computer vision will almost always provide the correct species in its list of suggestions. On the other hand, if I photograph an obscure, small insect, it will struggle. The reason for this is that the more photographs of a species that get uploaded, the better the computer vision gets at recognising it. There are a few reasons why it can suggest options that turn out to be incorrect:
1) The organism you observed looks very similar to other species. This is often the case for invertebrates where, in some groups, you may have 10+ species that all look extremely similar, and are only differentiable by tiny features that may not be clear in your photo.
2) There aren't enough photos of that species. The computer vision requires a minimum threshold of observations for a species to make suggestions, so if you upload an observation of a rare species, chances are it won't recognise it yet.
3) Your photo is a bit dodgy. Not everyone is a professional photographer, and while photos of all qualities are more than welcome on iNaturalist, the computer vision will struggle with photos that are blurry, overexposed, or of subjects that are very far away.
The most important thing to do when using the computer vision is to check whether the suggested options are actually found where you took your photo. Because most of the site's users and observations are from North America, the computer vision is inherently biased towards North American organisms, so always consider the options carefully before choosing one.
Should I take more than one photo of an organism?
In most cases, yes! If you're photographing a common bird, then one photo is likely enough. For other groups, however, multiple photos are often needed to make an identification. As a general good practice, try to get multiple shots of organisms where possible, including a side view, a dorsal view (directly above) and important features such as flowers or wing venation. It's also often helpful to indicate scale in your photographs, especially for small organisms.
If you do take multiple photographs of the same organism, make sure to upload them all as a single observation. Three photographs of the same butterfly should be uploaded together as one observation, not as three separate observations.
Are my observations useful?
Certainly! Every observation you upload becomes a valuable datapoint representing an encounter with a species at a point in space and time. After your observations are identified, the data are piped into databases like the Atlas of Living Australia and the Global Biodiversity Facility where they can be used by scientists in actual research!
So, what should I take photos of?
Anything and everything! Whether it's the pigeons you see outside your house every morning or a rare beetle you've never seen before, all observations are useful. But whatever you take photos of, always make sure to not put yourself in danger; this means staying a safe distance from snakes, and no leaning over cliffs to see that cool flower you can just spot over the edge! Never harm any organisms you encounter and always stick to the path. It's also important to make sure you never trespass onto private property or travel off-path in national parks and protected areas when trying to take photos. Sticking to the path ensures that you stay out of trouble, and protects plants and wildlife from getting trampled.
But what about COVID?
It's really important to still practice social distancing and stay as safe and as healthy as you can. Always make sure you follow your city's COVID rules and restrictions and don't travel anywhere you're not meant to. But even if your movements are restricted, you can still participate! You'll be amazed at how much biodiversity you can find in your own backyard (insects, flowers, birds, and more) and around your house, so get your camera ready and start snapping!
How do I use the iNaturalist platform?
Check out how to get started on the iNaturalist platform with these simple tips.
What if I am in the Southern Hemisphere, but my area isn’t officially involved in the GSB?
All observations made on the iNaturalist platfrom during the GSB (25th - 28th September) will automatically be included in the event; your area does not need to be officially involved in the event. However, if you would like to create a project for your specific area or region for the BioBlitz event, check out how to register as an organiser on our page here.