It is now less than 100 days before the Great Southern Bioblitz (GSB), an opportunity for regions in the southern hemisphere to show off their biodiversity through observations uploaded to iNaturalist.
If you haven’t been a part of a bioblitz before, allow me to gently nudge and encourage you to get involved. Once you have the ‘bug’ (pun intended) you’ll feel how exciting it is to learn the names of and pay attention to, the other forms of life that we humans share spaces with.
Observations can be of all sorts:
plants like shrubs, trees, herbs and grass
A carnivorous plant known as a sundew. This one is Drosera aberrans.
For good examples of commentary and expertise from users on the iNaturalist platform, click on these pictures.
animals including all insects, bugs and birds, fish, frogs and falcons
A really unusual and special '2 in 1' observation by @thebeachcomber - Goose Neck Barnacles Lepas anserifera attached to a Scaly Rock Crab Plagusia squamosa.
fungi: mushrooms, toadstools, puffballs and boletes (and many more)
Heterotextus miltinus - sorry, no common name - how about we make one up?.. Tiny Yellow Lanterns? This one is growing from a burnt eucalyptus tree.
algae: red, green, and brown seaweeds
This is Codium sp. We can't tell from this photo exactly what species it is - seaweeds are notoriously difficult for identification as many need to be looked at under a microscope to tell them apart. Still worth uploading though!
Once you photograph and upload during the GSB you become part of a global challenge over 4 days and across nearly 20 countries, to see which individuals and which regions can observe and upload the greatest diversity of species. Check out where you sit on the leaderboard, and if you are like me, shake your head in awe at the incredible abilities and speed of some individuals and regions to observe and identify their local species.
iNaturalist is for everyone
Welcome! Well done joining up. If you have an interest in biodiversity and the life around you, then you’re going to love this. You don’t have to be an expert on animals or plants, you don’t have to know what you are looking at, thousands of other users with identification experience will see your photo and be able to suggest what it is.
There are a few tips to taking good photos for identification:
Take a photo up close enough - no one on earth can identify that tiny brown smudge in the photo - get a bit closer and make it a large brown detailed smudge - iNat has experts on them!
Plants are easier to ID when you get multiple photos of different parts, like leaves, bark, flowers and nuts/fruit
Fungi ID is easier with a topside picture showing colours, and an underside showing the gills
Heaps of resources exist to help you get started, but the first step is to go to inaturalist.com and create an account. Let it snowball from there!
Level: Citizen Scientist
You enjoy taking photos of interesting bugs and plants, and you appreciate the incredible diversity of life around you. Perhaps you don’t have a formal training in biology but would still like to contribute to the understanding of life on this planet - This is the way.
Whenever you upload an observation of biodiversity to iNaturalist, and it is identified and confirmed by the community to become research grade, that will become a data point for biology researchers around the world. It may be used to monitor populations, migrations or particular species distributions.
(Mandalorian citizen scientists conducting biodiversity survey on Morak).
Level: Experienced taxonomist
So, you’re an expert on a particular taxon. The specialised knowledge of often obscure intricacies which separate one species from another are familiar to you. One question, what has taken you so long to find iNat? Never mind, we need your help identifying what users have uploaded. You can choose to subscribe to particular taxonimic groups you are interested in or have expertise in identifying, or observations from particular locations.
Clear as mud - one major difference between these two differentiates Oxycanus australis from Oxycanus dirempta - can you spot it?*
*its the antennae!
Personally, my level sits somewhere in between. A trained biologist who studied Australian Ringtail Possums, however now I'm a generalist biodiversity lover - with a particular focus on my local area, the Surf Coast in Victoria, Australia. I want to know everything that lives here and how their populations, appearances and behaviours change with the seasons. Perhaps they migrate away for part of the year? Viewing and helping to identify what other users upload is how I can achieve this. Uploading my own observations to iNat is how I keep track of my biodiversity observations over the years, and the ease of being able to search back through them is just fantastic.
I’ve been able to increase the known distributions of a number of species of moth that I’ve photographed and uploaded, and being a part of the discovery of species behaviour and understanding is such a thrill. Having access to those with much more specialised expertise than myself is also fantastic, and so valuable for my own learning.
Larentia apotoma, a poorly understood moth species mostly observed durng winter. In this observation, two experts on moths help to identify it.
We’re really excited about having you join and be a part of one of the biggest surveys of biodiversity in the world. There are many of us that are more than willing to answer questions and help out if you need it.
For the love and appreciation of biodiversity,
All photos by the author except if otherwise acknowledged (@possumpete)