iNaturalist, a field notebook in your smartphone
iNaturalist provides a place to record and organize nature findings, meet other nature enthusiasts, and learn about the natural world.
Source: Help section iNaturalist / Image: harum koh CC BY-SA 2.0
Download: Android 3.0 (12.12MB) / iOS 9.0 (31.8MB) / web
Language: English / French / Hebrew / Italian / Japanese / Portuguese / Español / Swedish / Galician / Basque / Catalan
Runs offline: partially
Last update: Android 12/06/2017 (v. 1.6.0) – iOS 30/06/2017 (v. 2.7)
Website of the developer: iNaturalist / California Academy of Science
- In order to clarify erroneous or bad concepts explained, in addition to the corrections made on this article on 19/10/2015 (the original text is shown crossed out), a new article in relation to the application iNaturalist has been drafted.
- Article updated on 10/07/2017
iNaturalist is an open source field notebook to install on the smartphone and record sightings of insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, plants, birds, mushrooms, shellfish, etc. (on the website you can find the different groups).
To use this field diary is necessary to open an account. You can register through social networks profiles like Facebook or Google +, or through an email account and a password.
One of the features of this application is that sightings must be assigned to a specific data collection project (the choice of a project is optional). Regarding to internet, to choose the project, synchronize and consult the guides, a connection is required. The forms can be customized according to the requirements of the project, although this task must be performed from the web version (it has not been possible to check if these forms are synchronized in the mobile version).
The application consists of 6 sections:
- “Explore”, to access to the registered observations and consult the appropriate datasheets.
- “Projects”, to select the data repository in which you want to upload your sightings. You can search projects based on your location or by the name of the initiative.
- “Guides”, with information to identify the different species. Their datasheets can be used to fill out some fields of the forms. The web app also allows you to create your own identification keys that after can be shared with the community.
- “Activity”, in which you have the option to receive updates and consult, for example, the observations of the week.
- The option “Missions” shows recommendations of what to look around you.
- “Settings”, to choose, among other options, the language and the iNaturalist network to collaborate.
The “My Observations” section is loaded by default when you start the application (you can also access this section by clicking on the arrow that appears in the user profile). In this way, you can access a form to fill out data such as species name, coordinates (public or private depending on the user and/or threat of taxon), description, date and time. You can also select the option to request help from the community to identify a specimen. Is no necessary to register the animal itself, because the signs of its presence are also valid (footprints, droppings, etc.).
It should also be mentioned that in the version for iOS devices and starting with version 2.7 a computer vision system that automatically offers identification suggestions is being implemented
Images: Screenshots 14/04/2017. ©iNaturalist
INaturalist is maybe one of the oldest applications related with citizen science. Launched in 2008, it exceeded one million of worldwide registers in autumn 2014, as National Geographic collected on its website.
One of its main strengths is the community of enthusiasts and experts in nature that has been woven around the application. This is a social network in which the so-called “curators” play a fundamental role in providing advice and knowledge for the correct identification of the different species. Regarding the negative aspects, perhaps a sense of disorder is perceived in the data collected. One of the causes can be the difference between the forms of the mobile application and the web version. Equally, they are lacking aspects such as a protocol in the denomination of projects, more filters to find relevant initiatives (depending on the animal group, for example), cleaning of abandoned projects or tutorials in Spanish.
Although the quality of the data is insufficient for scientific use (in the comments, some persons indicate that the information compiled can have a scientific use, affirmation that Greenapps&Web recognizes like true, although it is considered that the validity of this information will be determined to a great extent by the existence of a specific methodology to collect data), the collected information can provide relevant evidences about species distribution, for example. It is a tool to discover the nature whose use should be strengthened in areas such as education.
10 thoughts on “iNaturalist, a field notebook in your smartphone”
You state that – “Although the quality of the data is insufficient for scientific use, the collected information can provide relevant evidences about species distribution, for example. It is a tool to discover the nature whose use should be strengthened in areas such as education.” I would suggest that this is NOT true. Many many records that are identified as “research grade” are included in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (see http://www.gbif.org/) database and are being used by scientists in a wide variety of biogeographical work. A research grade record has a location, photograph or recording of the species observation that is identifiable, and multiple agreeing identifications by naturalists, many whom are professional biologists. You should expand that statement and correct it.
Thanks for you comment, Kent. Of course, the data collected throught a serious methodology may be valid for scientific use, but I think there is many registers that don’t have the enough quality.
Hi! Frequent iNaturalist user here! Albeit an iPhone app rather than android user (mostly). Just a few things:
It’s not true that observations need to be linked to a project. Many of mine are not.
While it’s an active and somewhat tumultuous community, I haven’t noticed any disorder associated with different apps and the website. Not sure what you mean by that. I do agree that there are lots of abandoned projects cluttering the site, and that can be an annoyance. I’d encourage new users to not worry about adding their observations to a project. Project curators can add your observations if they want to and you give them permission, anyway.
I’m not sure what you mean about the data not being sufficient for scientific use. In addition to using iNaturalist for fun I do use the app and the data for my job, which involves ecological mapping in the US state of Vermont. Many other US states and non-profits also do use the data. It’s not rigorously gathered plot data, of course, and it also can’t be used as negative data (you can’t note the absence of something). But as long as you know the data and its limitations it is incredibly useful.
Thanks for your interest!
I apologize, looks like the main language here is Spanish but my Spanish is not very good thus the post in English :/
Thanks for your comment, Charlie. Yeah, I will correct the afirmation about project because I’ve tested again and you’re right. The review has been made with the Spanish version of iNat and I’ve saw a difference between the web version and mobile version. For example, If you need data about temperature of the water of a river, you can add a field to collect the data in the web version, but this new form can´t be synchronized after in the mobile app. And yes, the main language of the website is Spanish, so I apologize because the English version can content some grammatical errors
I’m one of the co-directors of iNat and there are two factual inaccuracies in this article I’d like to correct:
1) Observations do *not* have to be added to a project. Projects are completely optional.
2) The quality of iNaturalist data is perfectly suitable for scientific use, and in fact, the data has already been used in several scientific publications. We distribute our data to scientific data repositories like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, and researchers generally access our data through those venues. Here’s an example of a scientific paper that used iNat data through GBIF: http://elifesciences.org/content/3/e04395.abstract. This “invisibility” of citizen science data in published research is, unfortunately, a pervasive problem. For more on the topic, see http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0106508
Hi Ken-ichi Ueda. You’re right about the project question, so I will correct it. Regard to scientific value of the data, my opinion was related to the difference of the forms between web version and app, at least, in the Spanish version of iNat. For example, if a project needs data about temperature, I haven’t found any possibility to add a field in the app to collect this kind of data except the description ¿Is it possible to synchronize a form made in the web version with the mobile version?
Actually, the whole point of iNaturalist is to generate scientific data from citizen scientists. The social media aspects are brilliant in that they separate the observation from the expertise: you don’t have to know what the thing is to post it. Just label it as far as you can determine, even if that’s just “plant”, or “fungus” or something similar. The network helps get the ID, then the observation becomes research data used all over the world. There’s no other way to get this kind of species distribution data–it’s too expensive to pay an army of researchers to go out and get it.
Yes, you’re right, ffelix. In this aspect, the application is great