February 18, 2020

Tech Tip Tuesday: Using URLs

It’s reaching that point in the season where I’m starting to dream of my summer garden. Every day I look out the window to see the usually vibrant, green patch covered in snow. And I know I’m not the only one. Last summer a whole host of wildlife came by for an easy snack: deer, groundhogs, squirrels, and even a couple of bold raccoons. Now, the garden is barren and the animals are busy scavenging the last winter morsels in the woods before new spring growth brings some much-needed variety to the menu.

When I went out for a walk this weekend, I saw evidence of foraging everywhere. Here and there, tree branches and other woody stems showed traces of browse and nibbles from smaller critters. Most noticeable were patches of ground scraped nearly bare of snow and leaves. Only the size of the patches and the nearby tracks indicated what might have left them: deer, turkeys, and the occasional squirrel.

What’s been foraging near your home or along your favorite trail? Next time you head out, keep on the lookout for signs of snacking and make sure to add them to iNaturalist!

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

Picture your favorite animal. For some of us it’s easy, however if you’re like me you may have multiple favorite animals. Sometimes when exploring the biodiversity around us, we run into similar dilemmas where we want to investigate more than one species at a time. Often when looking for patterns in the natural world, we need to look beyond a single species.

In using iNaturalist’s “Explore” tool, you’ve probably noticed that you can only select one species at a time to investigate. What happens if you need to see the observations for two or more species – is it impossible? Good news – it’s not. Today I’ll explain a neat (and relatively simple) trick that will help you create more specific searches. Sounds pretty neat, right? Let’s get started!

There are two main ways you can search for observations in Explore. The first is the one that most people use – you fill out the search fields and filter your results to find what you’re looking for. But what if the options you’re looking for aren’t included, like wanting to view two different species’ observations side-by-side? To do this, you use the second search option – changing the search page’s URL.

First, go to Explore and fill out search information (I searched for Seven-spotted Lady Beetles without any other restrictions), and then look at the web address. It will look something like this: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&subview=grid&taxon_id=51702. At first glance, this may look like a random jumble of information, however by picking it apart you will realize that it is actually quite detailed.

The first section “https://www.inaturalist.org/observations” notes the page that I’m on. This is the URL for the Explore page. The question mark then shows that I’m starting to look at the search query components. “place_id=any” means that I searched without a location restriction, so it’s returning observations for all places. The “&” means that we’re moving to a new search component. “subview=grid” means that I’m viewing my results in the grid view option. When I switch to the list view option, that section of the URL changes to “subview=table”.

Finally, on to the part that we’re talking about today. You will notice that unlike the first two components, “taxon_id=51702” contains numbers. These numbers correspond to the species I searched for. Every species has a taxon id number. You can find this by visiting the species’ Taxa Info page (from a previous TTT). Once on its page, this number is located in the URL. For example, the URL for the Seven-spotted Lady Beetle’s Taxa Info page is https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/51702-Coccinella-septempunctata. The number is the taxa id and the text is its scientific name.

Armed with that information, you can use this section of the URL to expand your search query to more than one species. Let’s say I want to see the observations for both Seven-spotted Lady Beetles and Fourteen-spotted Lady Beetles. To do this from my current search, I go to the Fourteen-spotted Lady Beetle’s Taxa Info page and copy its taxa id number from the URL.

Back on my original search page, I go up to the web address and click in the URL at the end of the Seven-spotted Lady Beetle’s taxon id number. I add a comma (you always separate multiple components of the same search field with a comma, versus separating different distinct search fields with an “&”) and paste in the Fourteen-spotted Lady Beetle’s taxon id number. Before hitting enter, make sure to click on where it says “id” in the URL and change it to “ids”. If you forget to do this, your URL will take you to a blank page. I spent several confused minutes troubleshooting before realizing I was missing that one small, important “s”.

When done, my URL looks like this: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?61532&place_id=any&subview=grid&taxon_ids=51702,61532. Now when I hit enter to launch the search, I get observations for both Seven-spotted and Fourteen-spotted Lady Beetles.

The nice thing about this URL trick is that it’s not exclusive to species. You can use the same set of steps for locations. If I want to look at observations for Vermont and New Hampshire at the same time, I simply pull up the individual searches for each, copy their place id number, and add them with a comma as you would for species. You will get a URL that looks like this: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=47,41&taxon_ids=51702,61532.

Note: You don’t need to add an “s” to the end of “place_id”. I’m not entirely sure why, however I know that for my computer it returned me to an “any place” search.

Finally, you can also use URLs to show more than one species’ ranges on a map. To do this, you need this URL: https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/map?taxa=51702,61532#4/41.902/-75.76. Copy and paste this URL into your web address bar and alter the taxon id numbers to reflect the species you want to map. The numbers at the end relate to the map’s position and will change as you zoom in or out on the map. When you edit the taxon id numbers and hit enter, you should see a map with two or more colored squares showing where your species are found.

Once you get the hang of it, this trick is easy to use and gives you the freedom to search for the exact observations that you want. You can apply this trick to any component of the URL: people, places, dates, etc. You can check out the iNaturalist forum to learn more about editing URLs.

TTT Task of the Week

Editing URLs can seem confusing until you get used to how they’re formatted. Take some time this week to explore different search parameters by editing URLs. See if you can search for multiple species, places, or people.

Thank you for helping us map Vermont’s biodiversity and happy observing!

Posted on February 18, 2020 19:58 by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2 | 2 comments | Leave a comment

February 11, 2020

Tech Tip Tuesday: Understanding Licensing

Nature is full of surprises. This past week I’ve been amazed with all the wildlife that I saw out and about despite the bouts of snow and bone-chilling cold. Just the other evening on my drive home from work, I saw a muskrat skittering across the road. Although they don’t hibernate in the winter, they mostly remain in their shelters unless disturbance or winter conditions require them to move. It makes me wonder what inspired this one to cross a road high up on a hillside instead of staying indoors. This experience was a great reminder to me that you can have interesting wildlife encounters at any point in your day, even when you’re not exactly expecting it. As always, be sure to record your neat sightings on iNaturalist so that they can help others develop a clearer picture of wildlife in your area!

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

Most of us who add observations to iNaturalist do so in the hopes of contributing valuable information to biodiversity research and conservation. Research grade data is made accessible to scientists through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). Organizations and other users will often use iNaturalist photos for articles, publications, and personal projects.

However, what many don’t realize is that iNaturalist has different copyright licensing options available that get applied to observation data, photos, and sound recordings. These licensing options generally fall under two broad categories: “all rights reserved” copyright and creative commons. “All rights reserved” copyright is what most people are familiar with - it restricts you from freely copying someone else’s work without permission or credit. What we’re going to talk about today is creative commons (CC), a form of copyright that allows the creator (licensor) to give permission for others to use their work in certain ways without asking permission first. This allows others to use creative products more easily while ensuring that the licensor gets credited for their work.

There are six different CC licenses available, each with slightly different conditions. The licensing that you choose to apply to your observations, photos, and sound recordings affect whether or not GBIF and others can use your uploaded information. Below I will walk you through how to find your personal copyright settings, what they mean, and how they affect the feature they’re applied to.

Finding your copyright settings:

Before I explain what the different license options are on iNaturalist, it’s important to know where to find them. To access your copyright settings, go to your profile photo’s dropdown menu in the top-right corner and click on “Profile Settings”. This will take you to a page that says “Edit Account and Profile”. Once on this page, scroll towards the bottom until you find the section that says “Licensing”. You will see three different categories: observation, photo, and sound. They each contain the same list of possible licenses. Take a moment to look at your current settings and know that we will return here in a couple paragraphs.

What they mean:

CC0 - No Copyright - You waive your rights to these observations, photos, or sounds. Anyone can use them without crediting you. Others can create new material based on your work.

CC-BY - Attribution - Anyone can use your observations, photos, or sounds as long as they credit you. Others can create new material based on your work.

CC-BY-NC - Attribution-NonCommercial - Anyone can use your observation, photo, or sound, and create new material based on it, however they can’t make a profit off of the new material.

CC-BY-SA - Attribution-ShareAlike - Anyone can use your observations, photos, or sounds, however any new creations based on your work needs to be credited the same as the original.

CC-BY-ND - Attribution-NoDerivs - Anyone can use your observations, photos, and sounds, however they can’t alter your work to create new materials.

CC-BY-NC-SA - Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike - Anyone can use your work, so long as they don’t profit off it and use identical credits for new creations.

CC-BY-NC-ND - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs - Anyone can use your work, however they can’t profit off it or change it.

Things to consider when selecting a license:

Observations: Not all research grade observations end up in GBIF and this is often due to licensing. GBIF can’t use observations licensed as CC-BY-SA or CC-BY-ND due to the way that the data gets processed. Any observations licensed in these ways (even high-quality research grade observations) are excluded from GBIF’s database, rendering them useless to the scientific community. If you want your observations to serve as data points to researchers, you need to choose either CC0, CC-BY, or CC-BY-NC.

Photos: Photos are more flexible when it comes to licensing. They aren’t subject to the same restrictions as observations, meaning that a photo licensed as CC-BY-SA or CC-BY-ND can still end up in GBIF, so long as the observation is licensed correctly. Also, as long as your photo receives some kind of CC designation, others can use it within the parameters described above.

Sounds: Sound recordings follow the same rules as photos. Any research grade sound recording with a CC license is shared to GBIF and can be used by others in their reports and projects.

Changing your license settings:

If after reading through all of this you want to change your observation, photo, or sound licensing, here’s how to do it. If you left your settings page, return to it following the steps described in the first section. Once at the licensing section, select the new license you want to use. Under each category (observation, photo, sound), there is a box that when checked will apply these changes to all existing observations. This allows for easy updating. If you only want your licensing changes to affect observations going forward (none that are already uploaded), then leave that box unchecked.

Want to learn about CC licensing? You can check out their website for more in-depth descriptions of the six different licenses.

TTT Task of the Week

This week I want you to follow the steps outlined above to find and, if desired, change your license settings. If your current observation license is set to one of the unusable forms, I encourage you to choose a different setting.

That’s all for this week! Thank you for helping us map Vermont’s biodiversity and happy observing!

Posted on February 11, 2020 18:51 by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2 | 2 comments | Leave a comment

February 04, 2020

Tech Tip Tuesday: Improving Photographs

Happy February everyone! Although it may not feel like it, February marks an important turning point in winter. The days are longer and species that were absent all winter will slowly begin to reappear. Keep your eyes out for some early migrants, such as Turkey Vultures and Red-winged Blackbirds. If you’re wondering what else you might see this month, check out the Vermont Center for Ecostudies’ Field Guide to February.

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

How do iNaturalist observations start? If your first guess is “deciding to go for an outdoor adventure” or “looking out your window”, then you’re correct. However, looking at a shorter time scale, I would say that most observations start with a photo. When scrolling through observations, it’s rare that I come across an observation without one, although you can and should upload observations without a photo if you see something really cool and can’t get a picture before it disappears. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to getting others to help you make a correct identification, the more words you can use to describe what you saw, the better. By providing detailed, carefully selected photos, you will make it easier for other naturalists to correctly identify your observation.

How do you ensure that your photos speak volumes and provide the right details that will help other users? That’s what I will share with you today. Below, you will find tips on how to improve the photos and information associated with your observations.

1. More is better. Take multiple photos capturing different views and parts of your subject. Sometimes small details necessary for making an identification are not visible from a single angle. Try taking pictures of leaves, bark, stems, flowers, and other plant parts, or photograph an animal or fungi from multiple angles, such as above, to the side, and underneath.

2. Write it out. Sometimes, you’re unable to take multiple photos because your subject escapes midway through your photoshoot. Or, you can’t get your camera to focus well enough to capture a particular detail. In these cases, use the “Notes/Comments” section when uploading your observations to record extra details that are necessary for making a correct identification. Examples include physical characteristics (color, pattern, shape), behavior (eating, grooming, movement), location details (elevation, proximity to water, surrounding plant composition), and anything else that seems important.

3. Put a lid on it. Catch jars can be a useful tool for getting pictures of insects, especially from all sides. Just make sure not to leave the insect in the jar for more than a minute or two if it’s unventilated, keep them out of prolonged bright sunlight or temperature extremes, and release them promptly when done.

4. Get up close and personal. The more of your subject that fills the frame, the better detail your picture will have (assuming it’s not blurry). Use macro lenses or shooting modes (often signified by a small flower icon on digital cameras) for small subjects, get close to a plant or fungi, or zoom in on wildlife. Make sure to use common sense when deciding whether or not to approach an animal. If you have any doubts, don’t approach it. I recommend checking out this article from the International League of Conservation Photographers for starters.

5. Measure it. In many cases, providing a size reference will help confirm an identification. Size references are especially useful for tracks, since many tracks can look similar in photos and it can be challenging to judge size based on the track alone. A size reference uses any object that most people know the approximate size of, such as a coin, glove, ruler, or hiking pole. You can also describe size in the comments section if necessary.

6. Think like a biologist. If someone asked you to help identify this observation, what information would you want to see? Try to get in this mindset and photograph or make note of features that would help another user or a professional biologist understand what you’re seeing.

7. Record the noise. Did you know that you can upload sounds to iNaturalist? This is helpful when identifying a vocal species or one that is often differentiated from others by sound. Some users find this especially helpful with birds.

8. Take your time. If you can, slow down and take some time to really look at your subject. Spend a few minutes with it if possible to figure out the best angles to photograph it from and get a good look at its details.

At this point, you may be wondering how best to apply these tips to different groups. Here are a couple examples:

Plants: Take multiple photos (leaves, stems/trunks and bark, fruits, seeds, flowers, buds, branching pattern), record any relevant details about location (elevation, what’s nearby)

Insects: Use a catch jar if needed, take multiple photos (top, underside, side view, straight on from the front), describe any details you can’t photograph, include a size reference, record a noise if it happens to make one

Birds: Multiple photos from as many sides as possible, record notes (behavior, location, physical characteristics if it flies away too soon), record a sound if it’s calling, estimate size if possible (ex: tennis ball sized)

Finally, I want to leave you all with two examples. In the first one, the user got a nice close up of the tree’s bark, however it’s difficult for other users to offer concurring identifications without other photographs or descriptions. On the other hand, this observation provides more photos which help other users agree with the suggested identification.

TTT Task of the Week

Now it’s time to put some of these tips into action! Next time you go to iNat something, keep these tips in mind. I challenge you to find three different species to photograph using at least two of the tips mentioned above. Bonus points for those who use at least four different tips in total.

That’s all for this week! Thank you for helping us map Vermont’s biodiversity and happy observing!

Posted on February 04, 2020 20:05 by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2 | 2 comments | Leave a comment

February 03, 2020

January 2020 Vermont Atlas of Life Photo-observation of the Month

Congratulations to Madison Alderman for winning the January 2020 Vermont Atlas of Life iNaturalist photo-observation of the month. The image of a Short-tailed Weasel (Mustela erminea) cloaked in white and peering from a hole in a tree in Rutland, Vermont garnered the most votes.

The Short-tailed Weasel is the second smallest member of the weasel family. Like the long- tailed weasel and its other relatives, the Short-tailed Weasel, also known as the ermine, is a predator. Weasels will burrow, or build, a nest in rock or wood piles, in a hollow tree, or under a building. Often, rather than building their own nest site, they will simply take over one of their prey's. The Short-tailed Weasel hunts voles, shrews, cottontail rabbits, rats, chipmunks and nesting birds. Males normally take larger prey items than the females. Short-tailed weasels will also store, or cache, extra food for later use. In summer, they also eat fruit and berries.

It is the changing day length, not the drop in temperatures, which initiates the color shift from brown to white in the fur in the winter. The waning hours of daylight trigger a response in the hypothalamus, commonly referred to as the “master gland”, and cause animals to undergo many changes that help them survive the winter, including changes in coat color and thickness.

With nearly 1,400 photo-observations submitted by 158 observers this month, it was very competitive. Click on the image to see and explore all of the amazing photo-observations.

Visit the Vermont Atlas of Life on iNaturalist where you can vote for the winner this month by clicking the ‘fav’ star on your favorite photo-observation. Make sure you get outdoors and record the biodiversity around you, then submit your discoveries and you could be a winner!

Posted on February 03, 2020 18:46 by kpmcfarland kpmcfarland | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 29, 2020

Don't Forget to Fav Photos for the January Winner!

Cast your votes and be counted! You can 'fav' any observation that you like to vote for the Vermont Atlas of Life iNaturalist photo-observation of the month. Located to the right of the photographs and just below the location map is a star symbol. Click on this star and you've fav'ed an observation. At the end of each month, we'll see which photo-observation has the most favs and crown them the monthly winner. Check out awesome observations and click the star for those that shine for you. Vote early and often!

Check out who is in the lead and see a list of all of this month's photo-observations.

Posted on January 29, 2020 19:52 by kpmcfarland kpmcfarland | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 28, 2020

Tech Tip Tuesday: Computer Vision

Welcome back to another installment of Tech Tip Tuesday everyone! I’ve really appreciated your feedback and conversations in the comments section every week. It’s helpful to know what works and what doesn’t, and exciting to see the information that gets shared.

Some of you tuned in and offered your favorite identification resources two weeks ago. For those of you who missed that epic discussion and want some new guides to check out, you can find all of the resources discussed (plus some extras) on the Vermont Atlas of Life Identification Resource Guide. Although TTT has moved on to other topics, I highly encourage you to keep suggesting additional beloved resources.

Sorry, no anecdotes about the weather this morning. I’m still recovering from the disappointment of a very slushy cross-country skiing adventure this past weekend. However, if this warm weather keeps up, we may begin to see spring species out much earlier than usual, who knows. Keep a lookout for any sightings of seasonally out of place plants and critters, and be sure to add them to iNaturalist!

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

When I first started using iNaturalist, I loved that it helped me identify observations the moment that I began to upload. In fact, I still love this feature – even if I can’t always receive a species-level identification, I enjoy the instantaneous feedback about my observation. I’m sure that I’m not alone. However, like me, you may be wondering how iNaturalist accomplishes this? That’s what I’m here to talk about today.

It all begins with artificial intelligence (AI). For a lot of people, the phrase “AI” may conjure up images of human-like robots (Ash and Bishop from the “Alien” movies usually come to mind for me). While this interpretation isn’t wrong, it does only represent a very specialized (and futuristic) subset of AI’s potential. In general, AI refers to any machine operating in ways that mimic human intelligence. Many of us probably aren’t even aware of all the ways we interact with AI on a regular basis. One example is the suggestions provided by Amazon and Netflix on what to buy or watch next based on your previous interactions with the site. In this case, a machine has learned how to make complex decisions about what to recommend.

For iNaturalist, the AI is programmed to identify distinct species and groups of organisms through a process called Computer Vision. In order for it to learn through Computer Vision, large numbers of labeled images are fed through a model that learns to associate features with that label. These images are previously uploaded iNaturalist observations and the label is the research grade identification associated with the image. The model can then be used to assign labels to unlabeled pictures with the same characteristics.

Not every species has gone through this process. In order for Computer Vision to develop a model for a species, the species needs to meet a set minimum number of research grade images – twenty to be exact. The observations fed into the model also need to come from twenty or more different users. This is done to protect the model against possible errors or biases associated with individual users. Based on these criteria, about 10,000 species were eligible when Computer Vision was originally implemented. The last reported numbers indicate that 85% of all documented species are labeled and that new species cross the twenty distinct observations threshold every 1.7 hours.

So, how does this come to play in your daily life as an iNaturalist user? When you go to identify your observations, iNaturalist provides a list of possible species and genera that your observation could belong to. These suggestions are based on a list of possibilities that the model weights depending on how consistently the observation matches with the model. Computer Vision provides this weighted list instead of a definitive identification because technology is not always perfect and therefore it allows room for human judgement as well (one time iNaturalist suggested that my White-headed Woodpecker was a Giant Panda…). In instances where your observation may fall under that 15% of species lacking a model, the program will provide a coarser filter, such as genus or family, allowing human users to establish the species-level identification.

Ultimately, the program is always learning. Any new research grade observation that gets added is run through the model, helping the program improve its identification abilities. That’s one reason why it’s very important to make sure that research grade identifications are accurate.

AI and Computer Vision are complex and fascinating areas of work that are becoming increasingly common in our daily lives. If you want to learn more, iNaturalist and The Atlantic wrote great articles explaining how iNaturalist uses Computer Vision.

TTT Task of the Week

First, I encourage you all to go and read the articles linked above. They’re not long and I don’t doubt that you will walk away from them with a better understanding of how iNaturalist works. Use this info to impress your friends! Second, look back through some of your research grade identifications and use some of the resources included in TTT #12 and the Vermont Atlas of Life website to verify that users provided the correct identifications.

Thank you for helping us map Vermont’s web of life and happy observing!

Posted on January 28, 2020 16:43 by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2 | 1 comments | Leave a comment

January 21, 2020

Tech Tip Tuesday: Using Identify

And just like that, we’re back to the usual winter programming! I’m very excited for the snow, however I could do without the sub-freezing temperatures. On the mornings where the thermostat in my car reads -5oF on my drive in, I often think about all of the wildlife (and plants) that must cope without the comforts of heated seats and woodstoves. Of course, they have countless physical and behavioral adaptations that allow them to survive. Every morning the sun rises on a new mosaic of tracks crisscrossing my backyard, letting me know that the local deer, squirrels, and four-legged predators continue to thrive despite the cold.

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

If this cold snap has you in hibernation mode, then this tech tip will be right up your alley. This week we’re talking about the identify tool. Now, I know that many of you have probably been putting your substantial naturalist skills to good use from the beginning of your iNaturalist adventure – after all, helping other users identify their cool finds is half the fun! However, not everyone is familiar with the time-saving wonders of the Identify tool.

How is it different than the way many of us approach identifying observations? Instead of going to “Explore”, searching for observations that “need IDs”, and clicking in and out of observations, using “Identify” allows you to use simple strokes to agree, add comments, and flip to the next observation. This means that you get to avoid the headaches caused by hitting “back” to get off a page, only to find that you’ve lost your place.

To get to the Identify tool, click on “Identify” along the top menu bar. Once you get to the page, enter the species and/or place you’re interested in identifying observations for. One neat aspect of Identify is the number of filtering options that exist. To explore these, click “Filters” to the right of “Go” next to the search bars. Once “Filters” is open, click on “More Filters” in the bottom left-hand corner to see the full range of options. Here are a few that you may find most interesting to play with:

1. Observations identified as unknown. To filter for observations marked as “Unknown”, go to the “Categories” section and click on the last option – a leaf outlined by a dotted line with a question mark in the middle. By isolating the “Unknown” observations, you can easily go through and add broad identifications like “plant” or “animal”. In doing so, you will help other identifiers looking for plants or animals find that observation more easily. Without even one of those simple identifications, observations can sometimes get lost.

2. Sort randomly. If you go to the “Sort by” section, you will notice that the last option allows you to sort your search results into a random order. This is great for instances where you may not want an order to your observations for one reason or another.

3. Help add annotations. You can use the “Without Annotation” section to find observations missing annotations. As explained in TTT #1, annotations are important to include because they provide extra information for people who may be interested in using observations to look for patterns.

4. Assist newer users. Everyone needs a little extra help when they start out, both with identifying and understanding what should and should not be posted. By going to the section titled “Account Creation”, you can filter your search results by when a user’s account was created, allowing you to focus on observations created by folks who are new to iNaturalist.

Once you have the settings adjusted to your liking, click “Update Search”. To begin, click on the first observation that you want to identify. There are several ways to edit an identification. The most straightforward way to add a new identification is by clicking “Add ID” at the bottom of the page. If you agree with a provided identification, click “Agree” next to that person’s suggestion. You can also click “Comment” on the bottom of the page to add a new comment. If you look below the observation’s photo, you will notice boxes for marking “Captive/Cultivated” and “Reviewed”. If either of these apply, please select them. Remember, being a good identifier is about evaluating the whole observation, not just correcting its species name.

If you’re looking for a speedy way to edit an observation, then it’s time to check out the keyboard shortcuts. You can find these by clicking on the keyboard icon under the observation’s photo (bottom left-hand corner). Once you click it, a menu will pop up showing you all the different shortcuts available. For example, to add a new identification you can hit “i” and a new identification box will appear. Or, if you want to agree with the most recent identification, you can click “a”. Take a moment to browse through the options and try some out (when appropriate).

Now that you’re familiar with using shortcuts to edit identifications, turn your attention to the tabs across the top of the observation’s window and notice the four tabs (currently on “Info”). Next to that, you will notice a tab called “Suggestions”. This shows you the suggested identifications for this observation.
The next tab will show you the observation’s annotations. Remember earlier (in point number 3 above) when I mentioned how you can filter by observations without annotations? By using this tab, you can add annotations to observations that need them or agree/disagree with current annotations. You can do this by hand or use keyboard shortcuts to add new information. Click on the keyboard icon again and you will notice that the list has expanded to include new shortcuts. For example, when on the Annotation tab, you can add a “Female” notation by hitting “s” then “f”.

The final tab allows you to vet the data’s quality. Look through the checklist they provide and select “no” for any missing qualifications. This helps ensure that observations remain accurate.

Once you’re satisfied with your additions, you can get to the next observation by either clicking the arrow to the observation’s right side or hitting the right-facing arrow on your keyboard. No back buttons required! If you’re looking for a visual explanation of how Identify works, then check out this great video from iNaturalist’s help section.

TTT Task of the Week

Now that you’ve explored Identify, it’s time to put it to use! If there is a particular place or group of species that you usually identify, then try out Identify while continuing your normal identification routine. If you’re not comfortable adding new species identifications, try focusing instead on adding annotations. Go to your filters and set them up to find species without annotations. If you’re new to this feature, look for plants and animals with clear annotations, such as species of butterflies or flowering plants. By taking the time to add identifications and evaluate data quality, you will both be helping other users become better naturalists and ensuring that observations provide a reliable data source to those using them.

Thank you for helping us map Vermont’s biodiversity and happy observing!

Posted on January 21, 2020 20:30 by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2 | 2 comments | Leave a comment

January 14, 2020

Tech Tip Tuesday: Identification Resources

Happy spring everyone! Oh wait…

Just kidding, but you could have fooled me. Sunday was almost t-shirt weather. And I’m not the only one who felt spring in the air. This weekend, I noticed a flurry of insect activity both inside my house and beyond. Many insects who usually hunker down in the cracks of my house decided to take advantage of the warm weather to forage and stretch their wings.

While some of us may enjoy a break from winter’s icy grip, unusual warm spells can cause problems for wildlife. In some cases, unusually warm weather can cause species that rely on temperature cues to emerge too soon, leaving them vulnerable to starvation and freezing if temperatures plummet. In other instances, phenological mismatch can occur when temperature-dependent food sources emerge before daylight-dependent species become active.

As weather and temperature patterns become increasingly erratic, the consequences to different species will become more pronounced. However, tools like iNaturalist are a real game changer. By tapping into iNaturalist’s vast network of citizen scientists, professionals tackling these issues can monitor how species respond and develop conservation plans to support species as their surrounding environment changes.

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

Besides monitoring species, iNaturalist is also well known for its role in helping people learn how to identify the life around them. However, we can all use a little outside help from time to time. Maybe there’s a particular species of fern that has the automatic identification stumped. Or maybe you want to confirm that someone’s suggested identification is correct. Regardless of your needs, there are plenty of resources to help you identify the plants, animals, and fungi you encounter in your travels.

Below is a sample of the Vermont Atlas of Life team’s go-to resources.

Birds:
Sibley Guides and Apps
Merlin Bird ID
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – The Feather Atlas

Botany:
GoBotany
The Sibley Guide to Trees

Entomology:
BugGuide
Moth Photographers Group
Flower Fly genera
Lady Beetles
Bee genera
Wasps
Butterflies

Introduced Species:
USGS Nonindigenous Invasive Species
iMap Invasives

General:
Discover Life

TTT Task of the Week

Take some time this week to explore any of the unfamiliar resources listed above. See if you can find some new favorites. I also invite you to comment down below or email me directly with your own favorite resources. Let’s see if we can get a big list going that people can turn to when they need help!

Thank you for helping us map Vermont’s biodiversity and happy observing!

Posted on January 14, 2020 20:14 by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2 | 13 comments | Leave a comment

January 07, 2020

Tech Tip Tuesday: Adding Historic Photographs

Happy New Year! I hope that your past two weeks were filled with happiness and relaxation. Or I hope that they were at least filled with good food and plenty of places to hide when you’re tired of talking to people. Realistically, it might have been two weeks of both.

Welcome back to Tech Tip Tuesday everyone! If you’re new here (maybe your New Year’s resolution to get more involved with iNaturalist led you here) this is a weekly series where I share a tidbit of iNaturalist wisdom to help you expand your repertoire of naturalist know-how. Since the New Year is about new beginnings, I figure it’s time to add an extra element to TTT. I will continue brainstorming weekly topics with the Vermont Atlas of Life team, however I want to encourage you all to be a part of this process. If you have a burning iNaturalist related question that you would love to see as a TTT topic, I invite you to write to me either through iNaturalist or my VCE email address. Obviously I may not be able to address every question the week that they’re submitted, but rest assured that your questions will not go unanswered!

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

iNaturalist is a great tool for identifying the plants, animals, and fungi photographed as you go about your outdoor adventures, but what about all of the wildlife photos you took before iNaturalist existed? Good news – you can totally add those too! That’s right, that black bear you snapped a photo of during your camping trip in 1995 can take up residence on your iNaturalist account. Along with helping you increase your number of observations, these photos can provide scientists with valuable insight into conditions and species presence at certain points in time. In some cases, historic photographs and documents serve as the only records that provide clues to past environmental conditions in a particular area. By examining these records, scientists can see how an animal, plant, or fungi’s phenology (timing of biological events, such as migration or flowering) has changed over time. This in turn helps scientists better understand how species react to climate change and other environmental disturbances in the past, and predict how they may continue to respond in the future.

Before you start posting all of your nature pictures from the past few decades, I’m going to lay out some guidelines so that they can serve as meaningful data points.

1. Make sure the date is correct. When uploading the photos, double check that the date assigned to the photo is the date you took it, not the date that you’re uploading it. You can change the date when you’re adding an observation by clicking in the box that says “date” (this is above the box that says “location”). If you don’t know the exact date, then either leave the “date” box blank or choose a day in the correct month and add a comment saying that the date is not exact. If you choose the second option, make sure to note whether the year and month are correct.

2. Make sure that the location is correct. This can be tricky. If you didn’t write down where you took the photo and it doesn’t have GPS coordinates, you may not know the exact location. Luckily, there is a way to indicate a level of uncertainty when setting an observation’s location.

To change the location, first click on the box that says “location” when adding the observation. This will take you to a page with a map. If using iNaturalist on your computer, you will have the option to type in the location and search for it (sorry mobile phone users). For either mobile phone or computer users, you can zoom in on the area of the map where you were. It’s ok if you only know what town, state, or region you were in. You will notice that your map either has a big red circle (computer users) or a black target (mobile phone users). The size of the area that these circles cover refers to the area in which you made your observation. If you know that you saw your black bear in the parking lot of Lake Dunmore State Park, then you shrink the circle so that it only encompasses the parking lot. On the other hand, if you only know that you saw the bear somewhere in Salisbury, then you make the circle large enough to cover all of Salisbury. The center of the circle is placed on the area where the bear was most likely seen and the circle size communicates to those using the data what the possible range of true observation locations were. Once you have your location circle set, click “Update Observations” (computer users) or the back arrow (mobile phone users).

A final note: please do not guess at the exact location. It’s better to have a large circle encompassing half of Vermont than to have a small circle around the wrong location.

3. Edit pictures as needed. Maybe your photo was shot when you were just learning and the image is blurry or grainy. Maybe you were interested in a different scene at the time and your observed species is on the very edge of the image. If you can, edit photos before uploading them so that the subject is as clear and obvious as possible. But even a crummy image can be an important piece of evidence, so don’t worry if it isn’t the best image.

4. Add observations for all species. It’s ok to add the same photo multiple times if there is more than one species present, as long as the date and location information is kept consistent. For information on how to do this, check out TTT #2.

TTT Task of the Week

As we find ourselves increasingly entangled in winter’s icy grip, it’s tempting to stay indoors and observe nature from a frosted window. If this sounds like your cup of tea, then I encourage you to take this time to stroll down memory lane and revisit old nature photos. Post any that you come across, even if it’s a species that seems super common. Species that are common now may not remain that way, therefore documentation is still important. Just remember to set the date and location properly. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me!

Thank you for helping us map Vermont’s biodiversity and happy observing!

Posted on January 07, 2020 18:33 by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 03, 2020

Naturalists Help the Vermont Atlas of Life Build Biodiversity Big Data in 2019

From the first observation of 2019, a Barred Owl sitting on a deck submitted by naturalist extraordinaire Roy Pilcher, to a Christmas Fern laying on snow shared by Bondaley on the last day of the year, naturalists added over 100,000 biodiversity records to our rapidly growing database of life in Vermont. Thank you!

And amazing observations kept coming all year long. We had  3,896 naturalists contribute  more than 104,140 observations representing over 3,300 species verified. Over 2,800 naturalist helped to identify and verify data. And we joined the more than 615,000 iNaturalists worldwide that submitted over 13 million observations in 2019!

Check out the 2019 year in review statistics dashboard, and if you’re an iNaturalist you can see your year in review too. Share it proudly on social media and tag it with #vtatlasoflife!


The Vermont Atlas of Life on iNaturalist has grown leaps and bounds since 2013. We now have over 375,000 biodiversity observations in the database. Note the peaks and valleys of data sharing match the seasons each year.

Posted on January 03, 2020 13:54 by kpmcfarland kpmcfarland | 0 comments | Leave a comment