Who, during a walk, has never wondered about the name of a certain flower, a certain grass, a certain tree? Today, the answer is in your pocket, or rather in your phone. It’s possible to do almost anything with a smartphone: call, send emails, surf the net, play… Now you can also identify plants, flowers and animals at the blink of an eye using an application. Today, several applications are available that will help you become a budding naturalist or biologist. Using your camera and the location of your smartphone, these applications work with important databases that hold records of the great majority of the world’s biodiversity. In addition to providing the user with the name of the plant, the application tells you about the characteristics of the plant. It is therefore a way to raise users’ awareness of their environment, and to involve people in the protection of our biodiversity.
In this article we will see some examples of applications that are available to identify our biodiversity.
iNaturalist, an application for finding the name of the animals and plants around you.
The iNaturalist application is a tool available on smartphones that allows you to identify animals, insects and plants with your camera. The principle of the application is very simple: it uses artificial intelligence to search the database for the animal or plant you are looking for. The application is based on community functioning; its database is therefore composed of more than 13,000 species added by a community of more than 400,000 “passionate naturalists”. The result is almost instantaneous; it grants the user access to observations about the plant or animal.
The application is based on a global community of naturalists, scientists and members of the public who share their observations of wildlife to teach each other about the natural world while creating high-quality citizen scientific data for science and conservation. This community makes nature more accessible to the public in different parts of the world and facilitates the availability of sensitive biodiversity data for science and land conservation. The network therefore allows participating members to help provide a biodiversity citizen science experience localized to their host nation, and to responsibly make sensitive biodiversity data available for national science and conservation. Currently, the iNaturalist network consists of five bodies: the California Academy of Sciences, the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity in Mexico, the Biodiversity Network of New Zealand, the Canadian Federation of Wildlife and Plants and the Naturalist Institute of Portugal.
The iNaturalist network has a mission to connect people to nature through technology with the following objectives:
- increase public knowledge, understanding and interest in nature.
- produce high-quality biodiversity data for science and conservation.
The application is available in the Play store for Android and the Apple store for iPhones. The iNaturalist interface is very easy to use: after creating an account or logging in, the user is presented with a menu that summarizes all the observations he may have made (Figure 1). He can add an observation by pressing the little plus icon, which will open a camera interface. Once the iNaturalist photo is taken, it will identify the subject. This is when the application will search the big database. In most cases, a name will be found for the plant or animal; however, some types of plants that are rare will be classified as unknown by the application. In this case, the observation will still be published but declared as “unknown”, which allows community members to identify the subject if possible. Once the identification has been made, the user can access a description of the plant or animal (Figure 2). The application also allows you to discover the fauna and flora around you via the map tab, which shows the observations of other users (Figure 3).
A web version is available on iNaturalist.org, which allows you to find all the observations available globally. This version incorporates the same map tab as the smartphone application, and the same features are available at the observations level; however, the map of the web version allows users to make more refined searches. The available mapping is like a geographic information system on the world’s fauna and flora. The large community around the world allows the GIS to be used to supply an important database of our fauna and flora.
PlantSnap and PictureThis
In the previous section, we saw an application that allows the recognition of plants and animals. But recently other applications have also been offering this service. PlantSnap and PictureThis are two applications that aim to identify plants for you, and are entirely focused on the plants found in your garden and vegetable patch. Based on the same principle as the iNaturalist app, a simple photo launches an artificial intelligence process that finds your plant. Then there are research guidelines to help you better understand the plants around you. What probably differentiates these two applications from iNaturalist is their advice on whether the plants are dangerous or edible. The apps can also help botanists around the world understand ecosystems and identify new habitats. They can furthermore be used as an educational tool in schools and also in landscaping companies.
To conclude, protecting our biodiversity is important and this requires a good understanding of our ecosystem. Through the development of the Internet, our smartphones and technology in general, we are thirsty for knowledge. Our data is increasingly important for answering our questions. In the world, regions function differently and fauna and flora are also different; it is therefore necessary to adapt to the environment that has been present for millions of years. iNaturalist, an application for the identification of plants and animals, has created a community of naturalists and biologists throughout the world in order to produce a consistent database. It is therefore used to produce habitat mapping for fauna and flora and thus maximize sustainable protection.
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« iNaturalist Network · iNaturalist.org ». s. d. iNaturalist.org. consulted on 11th december 2018. https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/network.
« Observations · iNaturalist.org ». s. d. consulted on 10th december 2018. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations.
« There’s an app for us · iNaturalist.org ». s. d. iNaturalist.org. consulted on 10th december 2018. https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/mobile_apps_nz.