How You Can Help Preserve Nature Using Your Smartphone
Summer is in full swing and I’m sure many of you are taking advantage of the warm weather to get outside and enjoy nature. However, you can also use this time in the great outdoors to help study and preserve it. You don’t need any special expertise. All you need is your smartphone. Here are five apps for the citizen scientists out there.
Seahorses are fascinating creatures that come in a variety of sizes and colors. Unfortunately, they are also threatened due to habitat loss and overexploitation. One of the big challenges seahorse conservationists have is a lack of knowledge. There are 48 different kinds of seahorse species, and we still don’t have a very good idea of where they live or their populations. That is where iSeahorse, run by conservation group Project Seahorse, comes in.
iSeahorse is an app for iPhone. With it, you can add your seahorse sightings which will help conservationists gather information on the various seahorse species. The app will ask for information about what types of seahorse you saw, where you saw it, and the habitat. In addition, you can also upload photos. The data you collect will help scientists figure out what types of seahorses are out there and what their habitat is. You can’t protect what you don’t know about! The app isn’t just a recording device; it’s also a great educational tool with photos and information about the seahorses you might encounter.
Maybe winged mammals are more your speed. If so, maybe you should give iBats a try. iBats is a joint effort of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Bat Conservation Trust that gives people the opportunity to help conserve bat populations.
The programs is mostly active in Europe with only a couple of pilot programs in North America. In addition, you need an ultrasonic microphone. The idea is to record each bat species “somewhat distinctive” echolocation calls. Program coordinators can identify what type of bat made what call and in turn can use that information to monitor changes in the environment.
Because you need an ultrasonic microphone — which is a substantial cost — this might not be something one picks up on a whim. However, if bats are your passion it might be worth looking into joining the project in some capacity. The app is available for both iPhone and Android devices.
If you’ll be in the UK between now and August, you can help scientists determine the health of the country’s bee population. Since bees are most active in the summer, it’s the best time to look for them! Bees, as you probably know, are pollinators, thus are important to a lot of plant species (including plants that we eat). So it’s important that we keep track of them and make sure they are healthy. That’s where you and your trusty app come in.
All you have to do is download the free iPhone or Android app and record whenever you see a bee. Easy! This helps scientists know where bees are thriving and their range. This information can then be used to figure out what we can do to help bees thrive.
But what about the trees! Don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten. There is definitely an app you can use to help scientists study and preserve trees.
Leafsnap is a pretty interesting app, actually. It takes techniques developed for facial recognition and applies it to trees. You take a picture of a leaf on a plain, white background and an algorithm identifies the tree. Kind of neat!
Right now, it looks like Leafsnap primarily focuses on trees in the Northeastern United States and in the UK. However, there are plans to branch out; first to cover the rest of the United States and eventually the world. Information gathered by this app can be used to help scientists look at the ebb and flow of tree species. The app for now is only available for iPhone.
Finally, if you just can’t decide on what project to get involved in, you can try iNaturalist. This app is almost like a clearinghouse for anyone interested in keeping track of the natural world. You can find projects specific to your area and interest. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can start a project of your own. Unlike the other projects on this list, iNaturalist isn’t part of any specific scientific project. According to its website, the primary goal of the app and website is to connect people to nature. That said, the data collected is made available for biodiversity research and the information collected is scientifically valuable. iNaturalist might be good if you want to record a lot of different observations. There is an app for both iPhone and Android.
This list is absolutely not exhaustive. There are a lot of different projects out there that require differing skill levels. If none of these strike your fancy, but you want to do your part to preserve nature, I’m sure there is something out there for you. In the meantime, happy tracking!
Photo Credit: Marina del Castell via Flickr