Become an Expert on Your "Home"

Wednesday, October 30, 2019
What makes where you live special? Do you call it home? Do you connect with the landscape? What about the activities you do or the spaces you enjoy? Rich understanding and appreciation of our surroundings helps us to develop a sense of place. Today I want to talk about the value of citizen science to help us engage with spaces that are important to us. Citizen science not only provides us with an opportunity to connect more deeply with the spaces that we occupy and frequent, it allows us to feel like we are part of something bigger. Small, grassroot efforts can contribute to conservation management and environmental protection.

So you are out in your favourite place and you see a bird fly by, take a picture. Record its song. You can use this information to look it up, find a match and log the observation. These crowd-sourced observations help track migration, climate change and species at risk - and you are learning all the while! I am going to highlight popular and helpful citizen science apps that can help you learn more about your places while sharing this information with others.

1. EDDMapS (Early Detection and Distributing Mapping System): this app takes a hilarious approach to tracking harmful, invasive species. It has mugshots and a "most wanted" list for Ontario invasive species. If you find one, simply take a picture, your phone will GPS note the location and you can upload it to the app. This is used to track, monitor and control invasive species!

2. iNaturalist: this app is amazing and serves as the ultimate field guide, more like an encyclopedia of field guides. You can use the app to help ID your sightings and learn A LOT in the process.

3. Leafsnap: if you are anything like me, identifying different tree or plant varieties can pose a challenge. Leafsnap can help ID over 130 common Ontario trees - far more than I! All you have to do is take a picture of one leaf and you can get help identifying the species.

An important leaf to be able to identify: Poison Ivy! 
4. Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas: 75% of reptiles and 35% of amphibians are both nationally and provincially at risk. The atlas is a citizen science project that helps to keep tabs on these important species. If you see a snake or a turtle all you have to do is take a quick photo and send it in. This small act can aid in their conservation efforts. Unfortunately, the Atlas is being discontinued as of December 1st, after this time they encourage people to submit sightings to iNaturalist (2 above), specifically under the "Herps of Ontario" project. There is also a public group on Facebook that you can link to here

5. eBird: this community is incredible. With over 10 million logged observations, you can even log when you don't have cell service!! This data is widely used by scientists, conservationists and policy makers.

Species ID: Hermit Thrush 
6. Journey North: how many of you enjoyed seeing monarchs this season? This beautiful species needs our help. This app monitors monarch migration specifically and is completely crowd-sourced observations that then get mapped online, you can track where monarchs are and watch them inch closer each spring!! I presume this is the adult version of watching Santa on NORAD.

7. Bumble Bee Watch: it is a reporting website and app that tracks all North American pollinators. The app offers species descriptions, illustrations and user photos. The Smart Tool Search on the app allowed you to quickly identify bumblebees. You can even see a map of sightings! Pollinators are facing ample threats and this data contributes significantly to mapping their habitat use and abundance.

All of these apps are free and available on multiple platforms (iPhone and Andriod).

By identifying and reporting species that we see in spaces that are important to us, not only are we further connecting to places that matter to us, we are helping to conserve them and the species that inhabit them. By becoming more involved in identifying and reporting species in your area you may find yourself even more appreciative of the local biodiversity.

I hope you invite the opportunity to grow in your knowledge and appreciation of the species that exist in places we call home.