The California Academy of Sciences acquired the nature-cataloguing tool iNaturalist in late April in a merger of two of the Bay Area’s most prominent faces of public science.
iNaturalist has been the technology of choice for biodiversity citizen science efforts nationwide in recent years, including a March bioblitz in the Golden Gate National Parks that drew thousands of participants and featured a number of tours led by Academy scientists. Ken-ichi Ueda, who started iNaturalist along with classmates as a project at the UC Berkeley School of Information, said the site has now recorded more than 615,100 observations from more than 36,000 users — but the Academy will provide the stability to allow iNaturalist to grow and develop without constantly chasing funding.
“Remaining independent might have meant catering to more commercial clients to keep ourselves afloat, which would have compromised our ability to do what we originally set out to do: connect people to nature through technology, not connect companies to nature through technology,” Ueda wrote in an email.
Ueda said that he and co-director Scott Loarie, who joined iNaturalist in 2011, will look to hire additional coders and continue to improve the performance and usability of the site and mobile apps.
Dr. Meg Lowman, a pioneering canopy ecologist who joined the Academy in January as its chief of science and sustainability, said the Academy will use iNaturalist to advance its public science goals around the world — starting perhaps with a canopy herpetology survey she’s doing this summer in the Amazon.
“We’re in a position because the technology is very solid now, the bugs are out, no pun intended, to take it to different countries in different situations,” she said. “Key in all of this for the Academy, and for Scott and Ken-ichi, is we don’t want to just collect pictures. We want to collect answers. Maybe it’s invasive species, monitoring new insects, or maybe it’s just monitoring bug bursts so you get a sense of climate change. Lots of amazing applications are possible once this is in the hands of more people.”