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.