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iNaturalist is a citizen science project and online social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe. iNaturalist may be accessed via its website or from its mobile applications. Observations recorded with iNaturalist provide valuable open data to scientific research projects, conservation agencies, other organizations, and the public. The project has been called "a standard-bearer for natural history mobile applications."
iNaturalist.org began in 2008 as a UC Berkeley School of Information Master's final project of Nate Agrin, Jessica Kline, and Ken-ichi Ueda. 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 iNaturalist.org. The organization merged with the California Academy of Sciences on April 24, 2014. In 2014, iNaturalist celebrated its one millionth observation. In 2017, iNaturalist became a joint initiative between the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.
The iNaturalist platform is based on crowdsourcing of data. An iNaturalist observation records an encounter with an individual organism at a particular time and place. In addition to recording actual audio and photos of the organism, an iNaturalist observation may also record evidence of an organism, such as animal tracks, nests, and scat, but 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 private.
On iNaturalist, other users add identifications to each other's observations in order to confirm or improve the "community identification." 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. "Research grade" observations are incorporated into other online databases such as The Global Biodiversity Information Facility. 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.
In addition to observations being identified by others in the community, iNaturalist includes an automated species identification computer vision tool, called "Computer Vision." Images can be identified via an artificial intelligence model which has been trained on the large database of the "research grade" observations on iNaturalist. A broader taxon such as a genus or family is typically provided if the model cannot decide what the species is. If the image 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 one the software believes the image is most likely of at the top of the list.
As of 4 October 2018[update], iNaturalist users contributed over 15,900,000 observations of plants, animals, and other organisms worldwide, with over 88,000 users active in the previous 30 days. iNaturalist is the preferred application for crowd-sourced biodiversity data in Mexico and southern Africa.
Users have created and contributed to thousands of different projects on iNaturalist. 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. Other project types include collections of observations by location or taxon, or documenting specific types of observations such as animal tracks and signs, the spread of invasive species, roadkill, fishing catches, or discovering new species. 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. 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. In 2017, the United Nations Environment Programme teamed up with iNaturalist to celebrate World Environment Day.
The 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. 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. In 2017, the challenge expanded to 16 cities across the United States and collected over 125,000 observations of wildlife in 5 days.
In 2018, the challenge expanded to a global audience, with 68 cities participating from 19 countries, with some cities using community science platforms other than iNaturalist to participate. In 4 days, over 17,000 people cataloged over 440,000 nature observations in urban regions around the world.
Users can access iNaturalist data or add their observations to iNaturalist in several ways: via the iNaturalist.org website, through two apps: iNaturalist (for iOS/Android) and Seek (iOS; Android app is in beta testing as of January 2019[update]), or through partner organizations such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility website. On the primary iNaturalist app, users can contribute nature observations to the public, online dataset, though on Seek, which was designed for children and families, no online account registration is required, and all observations remain private and are not uploaded to the dataset. The automated species recognition feature is included in both apps. Seek incorporates features of gamification, such as providing a list of nearby organisms to find and encouraging the collection of badges by doing so. Seek was released ion iOS in the spring of 2018.
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