Competition encourages public to get outside and experience nature in cities
This weekend, residents from over 150 cities across the world will compete in the City Nature Challenge to determine who can find and record the most wildlife species. The Sacramento area will compete for the first time. Anyone in Davis, Sacramento or the surrounding counties can contribute by taking a picture of wildlife, from April 26 to 29, and uploading it to a smartphone app called iNaturalist. Whichever city documents the most nature wins. Organizers hope the event will push people to experience nature that is hiding in plain sight.
“The goal is to get people to notice that there is nature in cities, and urban environments,” said Sarah Angulo, a community education specialist at the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, who helped organize the Sacramento portion of the challenge. “You don’t have to go far to find nature. It’s all around you in your backyard. It’s on the streets you walk on every day.”
To facilitate public involvement, the challenge will be executed entirely on smartphones. All photographs of species captured for the challenge must be uploaded to iNaturalist, which uses computer vision to help identify what species were captured.
“iNaturalist is an app that’s more of a social learning space than anything,” Angulo said. “You take a picture of something out in nature, or you upload sounds to this app, and you can have their amazing artificial intelligence identify it for you, or you can have experts and scientists from all over the world take a look at it and help you figure out what it is.”
In addition to assisting the public identify nature, the application allows researchers to use the collected data for research.
“The point of iNaturalist is to provide data for scientists about where organisms are, what they are doing, and what times of year and times of day they are active,” said Laci Gerhart, a professor of Evolution and Ecology who helped organize the challenge in Sacramento.
Gerhart said data from the application has been used in scientific studies, and is often used informally by researchers to help guide projects. According to Gerhart, the app is also being used by different organizations to track invasive and rare species.
“Some cities are tracking invasive organisms that they are trying to keep an eye on, or looking for things that are rare,” Gerhart said.
Since the advent of the smartphone, soliciting data about the natural world from the public has become a powerful tool for researchers. Two years ago in recognition of this powerful new way of doing science, the UC Davis School of Education established The Center for Community and Citizen Science which is supporting the Sacramento portion of the event. Ryan Meyer, the director of the center, hopes the event will have multiple benefits for the community.
“We know that when people get outside and engage with nature, there are all kinds of benefits that accrue from that; both in terms of their awareness of their environment, and the concern and care they might have for it,” Meyer said. “Also there is a sense of connecting people to a place in a way that makes them feel proud of it.”
There will be an organized UC Davis Campus BioBlitz on April 28 where students can get together to start identifying organisms.
Written by: Peter Smith— firstname.lastname@example.org