Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, an annual celebration of our planet marked by an array of festivities and tributes to nature, and designed to remind us that we are stewards of the earth and the importance of appreciating nature.
To encourage us to get out in nature, the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County co-organized with their peers at San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences the City Nature Challenge about five years ago, timed to coincide with our Earth Day celebrations.
Nature exists in every city, and connecting scientists and the community through community/citizen science is proving to be one of the best ways to study it. As global human populations become increasingly concentrated in cities, it’s important to document urban biodiversity to help ensure the future health of both plants and wildlife. Large pools of data built through iNaturalist, contributed natural history museums and science organizations, help authorities make informed conservation decisions that allow humans to coexist sustainably with the plants and animals in their neighborhoods.
The City Nature Challeng is a friendly competition between the state’s two largest cities. It calls on current and aspiring community scientists, nature and science fans, and people of all ages and backgrounds, to observe and submit pictures of wild plants, animals, and fungi using the free mobile app iNaturalist (note that a few cities are using other platforms).
The City Nature Challenge is now a global event and it runs from Friday, April 24 to Monday, April 27. Participants can upload their observations to the app. From Tuesday, April 28 to Sunday, May 3, scientists will sort and identify submissions. The final results will be announced on Monday, May 4.
Like most events during the current COVID-19 pandemic, Earth Day will be different this year and so will the City Nature Challenge.
“We are calling it a collaboration this year, “explained Lila Higgins, Senior Manager, Community Science
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and Co-founder of the City Nature Challenge as well as
author of NHM’s book Wild LA.
“We have adapted this year’s event to this current environment, where our first concern is the health of our participants,” Higgins told the Buzz. “This year, scientists have an opportunity to learn what’s in your back yard since we can’t leave our homes or neighborhoods. Instead, scientists will be able to see more urban species.”
Higgins said they decided to go ahead with the event this year because “we know how healing nature can be and we are all in need of healing. Nature has been proven to really help reduce stress, reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and breathing in phytochemicals from plants and trees can help us build up our immunity.”
Higgins, who usually resides in St. Andrews Square, is currently staying with family in Upland. “I really miss the neighborhood, so I will be living vicariously live through your observations,” Higgins told the Buzz.
Participation instructions are easy:
1. Find wildlife. It can be any wild plant, animal, fungi, slime mold, or any other evidence of life (scat, fur, tracks, shells, carcasses!) found in your neighborhood, home, backyard, or even through your windows. You might be surprised by how many insects thrive in the nooks and crannies around you.
2. Take pictures of what you find using iNaturalist.
3. Learn more as your observations are identified.
If you are not able to take photos of wildlife, you can focus your efforts on identifying species documented in the area. A great way for people and organizations to make this a safe community event is to host a virtual identification party between April 28 – May 3.
In 2019, the City Nature Challenge tallied more than 950,000 observations made by more than 35,000 people in more than 150 participating cities in 30 countries. Participants in Miami spotted a swallow-tailed kite dropping an iguana in mid-air. In Bolivia, citizen scientists spotted an Andean condor—the largest flying bird in the world—circling high over their heads. And in Hong Kong, participants photographed the fluke of an endangered Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin. This influx of information gives scientists, educators, urban planners, and policymakers insight into the biodiversity of urban locales throughout the world.
To help you get ready for the big event, NHMLAC shared links to two of their recent webinars on how to find nature and use the iNaturalist app to document your findings. The first is an Introduction to iNaturalist for Families (this one includes tips for families who are participating together or want to engage youth in community science) and the second, Introduction to iNaturalist, is shorter, about 40 minutes, and geared towards adults.
NHMLAC City Nature Challenge Virtual Events
You can also join NHM staff & scientists in a virtual ID party, to be held on Thursday, April 30 at 7 p.m. During the event, scientists will identify observations made during the City Nature Challenge and contribute to a global database of scientific research. No experience is necessary to participate. The event will include an introduction to iNaturalist’s Identify Tool and tips for becoming a better identifier. You can register for the event at http://bit.ly/CNCVirtualID.
Finally, for even more Information and an educational toolkit, see:
- iNaturalist app. Signing up is easy and free. You can also download the app from the Apple App Store or Google Play store.
- Social Media: #CityNatureChallenge, or Twitter handle @citnatchallenge