iNaturalist logs hundreds of thousands of photos of flora, fauna and fungi. There are even sound recordings too. Each is described and geo located. iNaturalist is used by citizens and scientists to monitor species presence and distribution.
It also helps with identification – it is common to upload a photo and wait for the iNaturalist community to identify it. The iNaturalist system has also been ‘trained’ to identify species in photos. There are also some specific projects hosted through this site.
iNaturalist requires users to be at least 13 years old. It is possible to create an account to log class data, but do get some experience using iNaturalist first. The Seek app supports species identification and is designed with younger students in mind.
Nature of science focus: Online citizen science (OCS) projects can be used to develop any of the Nature of Science (NoS) substrands. Identify aspects of NoS that your students need to get better at or understand more fully and then frame your unit to be very clear about these things when you do them.
Science capability focus: Gather and interpret data, Engage with science
Science focus: Biodiversity, ecology, classification
Some suggested science concepts:
- Scientists classify living things and group them according to their shared features.
- All animals have adaptive features – structural (teeth, feet, colourings) or behavioural (calls, migration) – that enable them to survive. Plants also have adaptive features.
- Biodiversity is a measure of the number or variety of species present in an area.
Many concepts could be learned – focusing on a few can often be more powerful. Develop your learning outcomes and success criteria from these concepts as well as the Nature of Science strand and the science capabilities.
Examples of learning outcomes:
- accurately gather and log data
- classify animals or plants into groups based on their shared features
- use evidence to convey the status of biodiversity in their own locality.
iNaturalist helps you to identify the plants and animals around you and connects you with a community of over 750,000 scientists and naturalists who can help you learn about nature.
Sharing your observations helps create quality data for scientists working to better understand and protect nature. iNaturalist is a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.
There are several ways to use iNaturalist.
- As a tool for identifying plants or animals: Photos or sound recordings can be uploaded and identifications sought, or you can label them for the benefit of others. You can keep track of your own observations with maps, calendars and journals and get help from the community in identifying what you have observed.
- As a way of logging population data from your area (e.g. BioBlitz): It is possible to create your own project within iNaturalist and log observations from your own area. This has been used to collate BioBlitz data. Instructions are provided.
- As a way of viewing data from all over the world: The world map of observations is very usable and can stimulate discussion about the meaning of what is displayed.
- As a way to help organisations with monitoring projects. For example, the Department of Conservation wants the public to report the occurrence of myrtle rust on iNaturalist.
This site is a little complex and designed to be rigorous about the data shared. There is a lot of support and resources on the website.
iNaturalist can be used from their website or app.
The online citizen science project Naturewatch recognised the similarities in the iNaturalist platform and the secure platform it offered. In 2018, it rebranded to iNaturalist NZ – Mātaki Taiao and moved to the iNaturalist platform.
iNaturalist NZ – Mātaki Taiao is now one of a growing number of international partners in the iNaturalist Network. iNaturalist NZ – Mātaki Taiao is active on social media, follow them on Twitter or Facebook.
Nature of science
This OCS project is useful for developing conversations about the rigour of observations whilst also being a useful species identifier.
It is used widely as a collator of data about the biodiversity of local areas and can be used to monitor species diversity over time. This lends itself to the science capability Engage with science where students bring together all their previous science capability experience and show they are indeed “ready, willing and able” to “take an interest in a science issue, participate in discussions about science and at times take action”.
The Connected article The war on weeds, describes how school students helped scientists combat the spread of weeds using iNaturalist.
The Hub has extensive resources about New Zealand’s native flora, fauna and fungi and why conservation and restoration are important. Find out more about biodiversity, or check out our topic collections: estuaries, plants, birds, reptiles and amphibians, butterflies and moths, fungi and invertebrates.
Here are some planning tips for when you intend to use a citizen science project with your students.
New users can see the helpful pamphlet from iNaturalist NZ – Mātaki Taiao.
Listen to Colin Meurk from iNaturalist in this Radio NZ interview. The period of nationwide lockdown in 2020 led to an increase in citizen science observations.
Organise your own BioBlitz using the guides from National Geographic, including Introducing Biodiversity and BioBlitz and Analyzing BioBlitz Data. New Zealand information and support is provided by Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research.
You can also access the LEARNZ Virtual Field Trip BioBlitz – what’s living in your backyard?.
Read Barrie Matthews' article about why he thinks educators should use iNaturalistNZ. See his other posts for more articles on using iNaturalistNZ.
This project outline was written as part of Victoria University of Wellington’s Citizen Scientists in the Classroom project funded by the Ministry of Education’s Teaching & Learning Research Initiative.