What is the species record for a backyard project?

I read Thomas Mesaglio’s (@thebeachcomber) topic At what point do you stop searching for new species in a defined area?

First, how do you define “a back yard”? I just mean the lot size of an urban or suburban single-family home. Not an estate home with a vast tract of land or anything.

Second, are you talking about an official iNaturalist project? It could be, but it doesn’t have to be. It could just be a personal list of species.

You can imagine that, with over 3 million iNatters, some of us have access to DNA barcoding, microscopes for studying a drop of water, etc.

What is the species record for a backyard project?

This is probably a good start.
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/house-of-a-thousand-species/47407

4 Likes

Thanks, @thomaseverest! I read the thread that you linked to, by Matt @muir.

Matt @muir also shared this list of backyard projects:

If you sort that list by number of species, and you take out the top one (because it is a farm, rather than a house and yard), it looks like the species record is around 2,000 species, which was hit (or nearly hit) by multiple people.

But they’re not sequencing DNA, and they’re not looking inside water or soil.

Cryptic species are not identifiable with the naked eye. What if you have 10 nematodes in a spoonful of soil, that all look identical, but are revealed (through DNA barcoding) to be 10 different species?

If you’re willing to send DNA for sequencing, use a microscope, etc., then you should be able to double this 2,000 species number, at least?

Here’s more helpful stuff from @muir, in case you’re inspired to tackle this:

And this comment from Brenda Black (@spiphany) . . .

2 Likes

Since most people won’t go to such extremes, I don’t think this matters. Amateur naturalist backyard projects have no consistent methods to compare. One person will use their phone and another will trap invertebrates to dissect. In this hypothetical, the specimens will yield more species, but that only proves that their method is more effective.

For my yard list, I already documented 1,450 insect species and I easily photographed 5* new nocturnal insects tonight to increase the tally. It’s almost impossible to estimate the true number present … it would require a full time job to rear every gall and leafmine, set and process malaise and pitfall traps, isolate soil microbes, etc. And, what about plants? If I buy one of everything at the nursery and transplant each, can I add it to the list?

5 Likes

This thread is relevant, too: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/monitoring-gardens-and-spreading-the-message/26094

Yes, equipment definitely makes a huge difference. This doesn’t have to be anything as complex as microscopy, dissection, or DNA sequencing – my experience is that even just having a macro lens radically changes what one is able to document and identify.

I was reading an article about urban balconies as habitat for pollinators (in a different city but the same country as me) and one thing that struck me when comparing the author’s list of her finds with those on my own balcony was the differences in what we had recorded. She had more larger animals (a greater variety of birds, a squirrel, a lizard), but I’ve documented over twice as many species overall in a shorter period. Does the mere number of species tell us anything about the relative biodiversity of each of our balconies? I doubt it. A considerable portion of what I’ve observed are well under 1 cm, and many of them are smaller than half a cm. And it mostly these tiny organisms (springtails, barkflies, etc.) which are missing from her list.

I think it’s really hard to make any sort of meaningful comparison or draw conclusions about the diversity of a specific property for such projects, because most of them do not involve any systematic monitoring, and there is so much variation in the choices people make about what to record and their resources for identifying organisms. (Not to mention different property sizes and environmental conditions – suburban vs. urban, tropical vs. temperate location, etc.).

4 Likes