Believing in the power of iNaturalist...

I hit my 20,000th observation in the Big Thicket last weekend. For the past 595 days, I've uploaded at least one observation. I've been fortunate to document over 3000 species of living organisms. Most of all, I've enjoyed the heck out of all of this.

Those are just 'braggadocious' numbers, but they've solidified a belief. I truly believe in the power of this tool, iNaturalist. Why?

  1. Exploration. I've explored more and more of the outdoors with iNaturalist than I ever have before. I'm excited to go to a new location, even if it's just a new park not far from where I live, just to see what I can find. Traveling further off is even more exciting -- EVERYTHING feels new!
  2. Broadening scope. In the past, I had been fairly narrowly focused on plants... When I focused so much on plants, I was almost oblivious to the things that weren't plants. With this tool, I notice the entire ecosystem -- and I want to learn all of it.
  3. Knowledge. I've learned a tremendous amount from observing things. To learn the name of something is the first step in appreciating it, and I've so enjoyed learning many new names. It can be frustrating when I can't narrow down the species on an observation, but it's so exciting when there's new things for me to learn about a critter or plant that I share the planet with.
  4. Community. I've been lucky to meet some incredible people on iNaturalist -- and this has led me to meet some of them in person. But even for those that I've only known digitally, I feel a real connection to my fellow naturalists. This is quite powerful -- and heartwarming.
  5. Professional development. In my current job as an urban biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife, I focus on outreach, technical guidance, and research. All of these are accomplished with iNaturalist, and I feel as though I'm becoming more and more of a regional expert in the flora and fauna of North Central Texas.
  6. Power to change the world. Ok, so this one is maybe the most optimistic or "pie-in-the-sky," and perhaps I'm just extremely biased and looking at the world with rose-colored glasses, but this sort of tool can change culture and society. If we were to value the world based on the other critters that we share the planet with, I think it would modify the way that we do things. I can only speak for myself... It has modified how I view the world -- I look at an area with hopes of finding biodiversity. A park with a 'wild area' is by far more valuable to me than a park that is fully manicured. I think this can spread to others. In my conversations with my fellow iNatters, I've heard that it has modified the way that they view the outdoors as well.

Those that know me know that I'm crazy about iNaturalist. I'm optimistic about the future of wildlife. iNaturalist is a tool that I use the change the world -- one observation and one identification at a time! :)

Posted on 27 October, 2016 02:31 by sambiology sambiology


Aaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll of this! Way to go!

Posted by carrieseltzer about 7 years ago

I noticed you were getting close to 20K. Congrats! Great post here, Sam.

Posted by tadamcochran about 7 years ago

I've been wondering if my enthusiasm will diminish after a while, once I start seeing most of the formerly-new things as old things. But I have a suspicion (and hope) that it won't, for all the reasons above. I don't travel around as much as you do, of course, but Houston is probably big enough to keep me busy for quite some time. Keep it up -- you're helping bootstrap a lot more of us into being useful ID-ers for our areas!

Posted by jennformatics about 7 years ago

Great post, Sam! And congratulations on the 20,000th!

@jennformatics In my experience, the new does eventually become old but even in the most restrictive theoretical cases, there is something new to learn. Take the example that there are 3 species in a given area. You observe the 3 species and understand their morphologies completely in a week. Then they're old, but you also have interactions that you can study. These will take even longer to study. Then there is also the microscopic morphologies of the 3 species. For any plant, there are three main organ types; for animals, there are even more. You also have specialized organs in plants like petals, sepals, stamens, etc. You can get even smaller if you want to understand the chemical makeup of each plant and the genetics. Then, what phenotype does each strand of genetic information produce? What are some of the other pieces of inherited information that aren't genetic? Do these last indefinitely or do their influences get weaker with each new generation?

With all the long winded stuff aside, you have a lot more than 3 species! You could almost certainly spend a lifetime on anyone of these questions with multiple organisms. That's the beauty of nature. It is so mind-bendingly complicated that I don't see us as humans running out of things to study in the near future. Besides, when the new becomes old you start to become an expert on a local level. And, making observations is the foundation that all the other studies are built on. That's why the best studies include voucher specimens, and why specimens form the basis for taxonomy. Specimens are basically just observations with a dead organism associated with it instead of a picture; and without them, there is no way for someone 100 years from know to be able to know that a person is even using the "right name", much less that they were looking at the same organism as the person in the future.

Enough rambling. I'm done. :)

Posted by nathantaylor about 7 years ago

Sam, congrats and thanks. The community education and sharing aspect of iNat is worth a special shout out. Leveraging your field observations to armchair naturalists has great impact and value.

Posted by rljcal about 7 years ago

@nathantaylor7583 -- very well said!

Posted by jennformatics about 7 years ago

iNaturalist is indeed a grand tool but without scientist like yourself that use it to empower the conservation message to all citizens it would be just another database. Thanks for your efforts in that regard and congrats on 20K.

Posted by eangler about 7 years ago

That's an amazing number of observations. Congrats.

Posted by vermfly about 7 years ago

You rock, Sam! Here's to the next 20k.

Posted by forester93 about 7 years ago

20k observations, 3K species. Nicely played Sam!

Posted by sy25805 about 7 years ago

Congratulations Sam !! Your posts and observations continue to inspire and educate - Thank You !!

Posted by ellendale about 7 years ago

Agreed and agreed! Go Sam!

Posted by kristikerr about 7 years ago

Congrats, and thanks for your infectious enthusiasm that incites others to get out there and explore nature with new eyes. I'm thoroughly enjoying inaturalist, and am learning about new species I wouldn't have otherwise.

Posted by txstack about 7 years ago

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