For many of us, time spent in nature is a welcomed respite from the chaos of our daily lives – a chance to get away from technology and resist the pull to stay connected. But if you’re like me, you also enjoy the challenge of identifying plants and animals encountered on the trail. While there is no true replacement for a trusted field guide, the iNaturalist app is a pretty decent alternative. That’s right, an app (eek!). But hear me out…

Even if you’ve written off using your smartphone in the woods, you most likely carry it with you. Herein lies an opportunity to connect with nature in a different way. Using your smartphone’s camera, simply snap photographs of plants, insects, animals, and even tracks that you encounter on your hike. Once home, iNaturalist can help identify what you’ve seen.

How does it work? iNaturalist is a free app that tracks your observations through photographs. The program uses crowdsourcing to help identify species you encounter, or at least makes informed suggestions, based on the characteristics of the organism photographed, the location of your observation, and other observations recorded in the area.

But the app goes beyond species identification. Armed with just a smartphone and your powers of observation, you can help inform local biodiversity. Your photographs become timely and valuable data, and scientists can use this information to better understand how our natural resources are responding to pressures like development, invasive species, and climate change. This information can then be used to inform conservation efforts, ongoing research, and management decisions. You are now a citizen scientist.

LPLC understands the importance of tracking local biodiversity and connecting people with nature. For this reason, we started our Conservation Monitoring Program. Our goal is to help people better understand local resources through monitoring, and we encourage observations to be recorded to our iNaturalist project of the same name. Contact us to get involved.