The Thrill of Discovery: There’s an App for That

July 09, 2019
Brent Boscarino
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference

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The Thrill of Discovery: There’s an App for That
Seek App Japanese Knotweed. Photo by Brent Boscarino.

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Have you ever been on the trail and noticed an interesting plant you’ve never seen before?

Or maybe you’ve spotted an insect sauntering along a sapling and were curious what type of bug it was. iNaturalist and its sister app, Seek, are two free, easy-to-use mobile apps that are transforming the way the hiking community engages with the diversity of life they are seeing along the trail. Once the Seek app is downloaded and opened, users simply point their camera phone at the animal or plant they want to identify. The app then instantaneously scans millions of photos from the full iNaturalist database and, in real time, displays the identification of the species you are viewing. It is remarkably accurate and a great way to build your knowledge of the flora and fauna in the forest or park you are visiting.

The iNaturalist app takes biodiversity learning one step further by having users contribute photos of what they are seeing to an international citizen science database. Once a plant or wildlife photo is taken with the camera function in the app, iNaturalist additionally uses its GPS capabilities to pin the observation to a precise location. (Users can choose to keep geolocation “private” if photographing a rare or endangered species or if they simply choose to keep their location anonymous.) Becoming part of the iNaturalist community instantly connects users to a diverse group of people including scientific experts, hikers, plant lovers, and ecologists who can help with specific identifications, talk and share common interests, and even get together for hikes!

The Lower Hudson Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM), managed by the Trail Conference, is utilizing Seek and iNaturalist to help track the distribution and spread of invasive species in New York and New Jersey. In addition to offering workshops to identify 14 common invasive species and 11 emerging invasives in our region, staff are encouraging volunteer surveyors to use both Seek and iNaturalist. The apps not only help build the confidence of surveyors in properly identifying the invasives they are seeking, but also contribute vital data that scientists can utilize in land management and stewardship programming.

Both apps are free to download and are incredibly fun and useful tools to try out on your next hike. Find them at inaturalist.org and inaturalist.org/pages/seek_app. To sign up for citizen science programs and help contribute to our efforts, please visit nynjtc.org/events or lhprism.org/invasives-strike-force.

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