Observations as a function of season, weather

We are currently in heat wave here in California and many of us are hunkered down, which has raised a question. I have seen several articles in science publications on how climate change is affecting animal and plant activity. Since iNat observers are also natural beings, and given the large database of observations which include time and location data, I thought it could be an interesting exercise if someone with expertise in analyzing big data could study the effect of factors such as temperature, season, weather (rain / shine), time of day, day of week, etc. on the frequency and timing of iNat observations. Intuitively I think some findings will be obvious, but it could put actual numbers on our activity.

Addendum: There is a flaw in my logic as both the observed and the observers are affected by the weather, etc. Therefore, the result will be the product of the presence of an organism to observe and the presence of the observer. It may be possible to somewhat separate these statistically (that is beyond my expertise level), or it may be necessary to do a study of observers reporting their observations times and places, etc. But I still think it would be an interesting study.


An interesting idea!

Interesting idea. I too am in California and as an avid inat user it has been tough trying to get out and observe when it is anywhere from 95-110 F. I follow ebird and I notice the last few days here in Southern CA there are many fewer reports and most are early morning, early evening or at the coast. I definitely have curtailed my time outdoors and visited areas that are shady and or slightly cooler and in the coolest parts of the days…however with the low temps being over 80F there really is no cool part of the day. In addition I would think animals are suffering too and probably not very active during the hottest part of the days.

Just as there is generally more inat activity on weekends I’m sure the heat waves and other weather events have a significant effect on observations.

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Summer in New Mexico is my most active time, the sunnier the better. My yard critters are most active in the late morning to early afternoon and it’s much easier to photograph bees with the sun overhead and smaller shadows to manage.


I moved from Santa Clara to Lincoln last November. This is my first summer where I have been in this heat. However, I have taken several walks in the fields when it has been hot and notice there are no birds about or are hanging in the riparian areas. The jackrabbits also stay to the shade.

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Love southern New Mexico in the winter, northern in the summer, at greater altitude.

What a cool idea! I think it might need to be opt-in because personal habits might exclude some, like me.

For example it was mid 40s Celsius here today and is often in the high 30s or 40s, but as the laundry is in the back casita, I still go through the garden even on these days. During these brief forays I begin to look about for insects and after I have hung the laundry (or whatever I am doing) I reward myself by taking photos.

But my garden and who is around changes quite a bit when it rains. The raintree throws out blooms and rain lilies spring up and rain frogs emerge from the earth to swim and enjoy the wet and large hovery insect friends dip back and forth over puddles. So even though I am not going to the laundry when it rains, I tend to rush out to the garden as soon as the thundering stops because I love the little frogs and I like to see all the changes.

So I don’t think my observation habits change with weather* but the observations themselves certainly do, which is why I would be a lousy candidate for your very interesting study idea. (Unless it’s only for USA, in which case I apologize for intruding.)

*exception is tropical storms


Your observation habits and techniques sound very interesting and would be very useful since what would be studied are very large numbers of people. One would not want to cherry pick the data.

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That’s an excellent point.

I am heat tolerant but on extremely hot days like today I do not linger outside like I might if it was 35 degrees. I poke around and am back inside in 15-20 minutes. So I guess even my data might reflect weather somewhat, even though we don’t have seasons here quite like the ones you have there.

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One useful way to tease apart possible causes (decreased human activity, decrease organism availability) of a single outcome (reduced observations) is to bring in additional data from a different source. For example, I work in a park here in California, and like many place where humans go to observe organisms, we keep data on how many people come through each day. Data like these could, for at least some locations, tell you roughly how much human activity decreases. We also have trail cameras that monitor the activity of animals big and mobile enough to trigger the cameras. These could tell you roughly how much activity of these animals decreased. At least conceptually, bringing all these data together from multiple locations would give you a sense of how much affect each factor was having on number of observations. My guess is that both are having a large effect. Park visitorship is way down when it is this hot, but also many of the organisms people come to the park to see simply aren’t available this season.


These would be a great source of additional information. It would be interesting to have cameras on water holes. The only place I know where people flock when world temperature records are set is Death Valley.

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