I’m a PhD student, and I’ve been using iNaturalist to both log data and also to help guide me in precisely where to collect sea anemones (Metridium, mostly). One of my favorite parts about iNaturalist is the ability to connect with and start conversations with other enthusiasts who have seen the species I’m working on. For example, I saw someone had entered an occurrence of M. senile in New Jersey; I needed samples from there, but didn’t have the funds to make a special trip down there. So, I got in contact with this diver who is getting into iNaturalist, and he was OVERJOYED at the opportunity to contribute to research. My species, though beautiful, is pretty common, so a lot of people don’t report it.
This, along with several other interactions like this, has gotten me thinking – how could we connect your average, non-scientist, citizen scientist who wants to participate directly with scientific research projects? Bioblitzes are fantastic, but sometimes these can be too localized or at a time period inconvenient for everyone to participate in.
Science funding for multiple field research trips is hard to get, so targeted approaches where you already know the species occurs are really necessary to be efficient with time and money. With iNaturalist, if a user has an interest or expertise in a taxon, then they will likely upload an occurrence. But what if we were to add a function that allowed a scientist to add a targeted project that automatically match them with users in a geographic area who could go out and search for a species, while learning about it at the same time? This would function almost like a scavenger hunt, and could encourage learning about a species in a person’s area that they might not otherwise look at.
For instance, a scientist would fill in several fields: 1) Taxon requested, 2) choose grid cells in a map where the species range overlaps (with a limit on the number of grid cells), 3) General ecosystem (terrestrial, aquatic, marine), 4) Time of year (particularly for flowering plants or migrating birds), and 5) Expiration date of search/Search needed until date.
Users who wanted to participate in the “scavenger hunt” function would fill in two fields on their end: 1) Geographic area in a bounding box, and 2) Ecosystem expertise or accessibility (terrestrial, aquatic, marine).
I imagine then at this point there could be a “projects matched with” page (think matchmaking), or email alerts, and users could look at the requests for their area in their ecosystem of expertise. Then, they could go out and see if that species occurs in their area using the photos that are already entered into iNaturalist as ID assistance. To me, this seems like a great way to encourage even more awareness of the surrounding environment, the application of this in scientific research, and also starting to overcome the bias away from reporting common species.
I’m not sure if there is a possibility to develop a new function or tool in iNaturalist, or if you even think this could be appealing, so I’d love to hear your thoughts!