WILLIAMS, Ariz. — Forest Service biologists are inviting eager naturalists, outdoor enthusiasts, and amateur scientists to join the Citizen Science team and help in documenting the plants and animals that inhabit the Kaibab National Forest.
At the beginning of the year, forest specialists launched the KNF 2019 Citizen Science Project through the free online iNaturalist platform so that visitors can share pictures of flora and fauna they’ve discovered on the forest.
This is the third year KNF has promoted an iNaturalist Citizen Science Project. The forest said the recorded observations are helping to improve forest managers’ understanding of the abundance and distribution of species.
“iNaturalist is an amazing platform that was created to document biodiversity throughout the world,” said Natasha Kline, forest biologist on the Kaibab National Forest. “While we’ve scaled it down to the forest level for our project, these observations are both improving forest management practices and wider scientific knowledge.”
Since the start of this citizen science effort, visitors and employees have made more than 5,000 observations across the Kaibab National Forest. This has included more than 800 different species of plants, birds, insects, mammals, reptiles, fishes and more. Because of its abundance in northern Arizona, ponderosa pine holds the top spot for most observations. Other discoveries, however, have proven much more telling about current forest conditions, leading to the potential to help inform future management approaches.
“We didn’t have any physical documentation regarding burrowing owls in the forest,” Kline said. “We’ve had verbal reports of people seeing them but not much else. Over the course of our citizen science projects, though, we have now received two photos of burrowing owls near the end of the breeding season. These kinds of unique observations, when verified, can lead to important scientific documentation.”
KNF’s citizen science effort has also led to at least one rather remarkable discovery. In 2017, iNaturalist user “birding4fun” posted images of a distinct-looking beetle that turned out to not only be rare but also have no previous photographic evidence in the scientific literature. The insect was identified by a beetle expert on the platform as a Typocerus gloriosus beetle, one of the rarest longhorn beetles in the United States. The obaservation earned iNaturalist’s “Observation of the Week” title and caught the attention of a variety of media outlets.
Forest managers encourage those interested to “See, Snap, and Share” their Kaibab National Forest discoveries through iNaturalist as part of the citizen science effort. iNaturalist offers the free app for both the iPhone and Android. Through the platform, forest visitors can record and organize nature findings, meet other nature enthusiasts, and learn about the natural world.
Through connecting different perceptions and expertise of the natural world, iNaturalist seeks to create extensive community awareness of local biodiversity and promote further exploration of local environments.
More information is available from KNF 2019 Citizen Science Project on iNaturalist.
Information provided by Kaibab National Forest