How iNaturalist has transformed my career as a scientist

Until today, I had not really thought much about how my engagement on iNaturalist has transformed my career as a biologist (a university professor with a focus on population and evolutionary genetics). Two aspects have been profoundly impacted: my research and my public outreach. I joined iNaturalist Sep 28, 2015. What follows is a summary of what wouldn’t have happened in the intervening 5 years.

I wouldn’t know diddly squat about bumble bees. iNaturalist opened my eyes to the existence of multiple species of bumble bees right under my nose. Now, I’m gathering genetic evidence that will support or refute leading bumble bee authorities’ premature conclusion that Bombus sonorus and pensylvanicus are not separate species.

I wouldn’t have rediscovered Anemone caroliniana in my home county–a species not documented since 1920. And this woudn’t have happened if I had not met @kimberlietx here on iNat as she somehow caused me to realize just how interesting Anemones are. I had ignored them–thinking they were pesky lawn weeds.

I wouldn’t have traveled 260 miles, during the beginning of a global pandemic, to see what might be a new species of Anemone. I wouldn’t have known about its existence without seeing a post by @kayakqueen. And I wouldn’t have seen the post without becoming obsessed with identifying species in this genus across the state of Texas. And I wouldn’t have been able to obtain comparative material from Arizona without help from folks I contacted through iNaturalist.

I wouldn’t have been sweep netting for beetles the day I found a beetle that didn’t exist in one of the largest entomological collections in the U.S. It’s now in that collection. It wouldn’t be there without iNaturalist.

I wouldn’t have made contact with a Mexican colleague who is now my collaborator on a research project studying population genetics of Geomys arenarius. It was her student who posted an observation of a gopher from an isolated population in Mexico. I contacted him, he introduced her to me, she sent me specimens, I analyzed the DNA, and we’re submitting the manuscript soon.

I wouldn’t have met @mikef451 who sent me some rabbit poop for genetic analysis to determine if it was a swamp rabbit. It was. And we’ll eventually publish those results.

I wouldn’t have discovered crawfish frogs or made connections with a colleague which lead me to submit and being awarded a $100,000 grant to carry out a conservation genetic research project on this species.

There are several more examples like this, but I’ll stop there.

But one more…I wouldn’t have dozens of new friends and colleagues (amateur and scientific) that motivate me every day with their enthusiasm for making new discoveries.

And I blame @sambiology for all of this. He’s the one who nagged me for over a year to get involved on iNaturalist. Thanks, Sam!

And thanks, iNaturalist and all of my iNaturalist family.

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This is an awesome post. Thanks!

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Love all of this. It’s been so fun to casually take pictures of bugs and plants, only to expand the range of some species I had never heard of before.

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Yes indeed Russell! I was hired by UNT to be the Ecology lab for undergraduates coordinator in 2016. Up until then, my only expertise was aquatic benthic macroinvertebrates and fish parasites in Atlantic Croaker. When I got my job, I suddenly I had to know everything. iNat and Sam (along with Ken Steigman) taught me all the other taxa that I would need to know about in our area in about a year’s time. Of course I am still learning everyday with iNat, with the bumblebees and your guide as a great example. I have made tons of friends and am delighted with every agree, message, and even face-to-face interaction. I would have lost a piece of my mind, especially during COVID, without iNat. My students use it, we manage our project’s species list with iNat, and my students can interact with people from government, private, and academia prior to graduating their undergraduate degrees. We also give back to the community with tree IDs for a citizen group that is concerned about tree preservation in Denton, TX. AND! I’m able to keep up with past students and former graduate school classmates on iNat without going to the social media. Anyway, thank you to everyone for being part of this amazing community and helping us all fill our love of nature.

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A lot of people can blame @sambiology!

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I’m not a scientist, but iNat has prodded me to document the seasonal variation of my ‘backyard’. I can now predict where certain birds are likely to make nests when they migrate, and the seasonal emergence of many insects. Perhaps the data may be of use someday!
And @sambiology has a lot to answer for ! :laughing:

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My ears were burning and burning for some reason, but I couldn’t figure out why! I hadn’t checked the forum in far too long. ;)

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I love this post, thank you so much for sharing all the good and exciting news @pfau_tarleton ! (^o^) It is so encouraging.

Thanks to iNat, I am finally “taking the leap” and taking undergrad biology in the fall and getting some STEM coursework under my belt. Yay.

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