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Join the City Nature Challenge

Join the global effort to identify as many species of plants and animals from April 24-April 27. Here are some ways you can participate:

Help Awbury Arboretum identify the diversity of species on their grounds so they can continue to practice appropriate land management. Though the offices are closed and programming is cancelled for the moment, the arboretum is open sunrise to sunset 365 days a year. Register (for free) and they’ll send you the results of the Bioblitz.

Go to a Philly Park near you—the Fairmount Conservancy is offering prizes to the most engaged participants observing species in East and West Fairmount Park. First prize is a Conservancy fanny pack and a one-year membership.

Find the wild plants and animals in your yard or on you block. Remember, even that week growing up out of the sidewalk, is still a species of something surviving and making it’s home.

You can even participate without setting foot outside. Check out iNaturalist’s Never Home Alone initiative and start documenting all the arthropods that share your residence.

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Video

Citizen Science and iNaturalist

Hear from City Nature Challenge co-founder Alison Young and co-director of Citizen Science at the California Academy of Science, Dr. Rebecca Johnson and about how to participate and why it’s helpful:

Learn More

How to use the app

iNaturalist is free—both a website and app—and it works without Wifi. Learn more about how to use it to record observations, share what you’ve found, and contribute to a global dataset of biodiversity information used for both science and conservation.

iNaturalist Guide

Watch this iNaturalist tutorial with Tony Croasdale from Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center:

Exploring Nature Using the iNaturalist App │ Parks & Rec @ Home

Nature lovers, this one's for you! Tony Croasdale from Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center walks you through how to use the iNaturalist.org app to discover and identify the plants and wildlife right in your own backyard (and around the world)!

Posted by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation on Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Citizen Recommends: City Nature Challenge

This Earth Day weekend, boost your mood during Covid-19 by enjoying the nature around you—and helping science while you’re at it

This Earth Day weekend, boost your mood during Covid-19 by enjoying the nature around you—and helping science while you’re at it

You know that mint-like weed you’ve seen a zillion times in your neighbor’s front garden? It’s red deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), the young leaves of which make a tasty addition to a stir-fry.

Those trees in Washington Square, with hot-pink flowers growing all over the bark? They’re eastern redbuds, part of the same family as peas (legumes), whose unopened buds can be pickled and used as a substitute for capers.

The vibrant bushy green leaves first to appear from the brown forest floor in March? That’s skunk cabbage, and its flowers are thermogenic, Due to some magic in their mitochondria, they can actually produce heat and melt snow, attracting pollinators and giving the plant a headstart against competitors.

“There are all these interesting things about the natural word that are just so cool,” says Heather Zimmerman, program director of Philly’s Awbury Arboretum. “I think when people start learning, they want to know more.”

Luckily, there’s an app for that: iNaturalist, which makes it ridiculously easy to learn about the natural world around us, while generating useful data for scientists. And during this weekend’s BioBlitz, you can also use the app to make a quantifiable impact on science.

“The more interested people are in the environment, the better that we will take care of it,” says Zimmerman, “And the more people are outside, the better nature takes care of them.”

BioBlitz, a four-day global communal effort to record different species of plants and animals, is part of the City Nature Challenge, which, pre-Covid-19, was intended to be a competition among world cities to contribute the greatest number of observations and identify the greatest number of species.

Flowers blooming in the spring in Philadelphia, a gorgeous shot for the City Nature ChallengeDuring the competition last year, 35,000 participants around the world identified more than 31,000 species, more than 1,000 of which were endangered; Cape Town, South Africa found the greatest number of different species (4,588).

The organizers announced mid-March that the challenge would no longer be a competition and encouraged folks to participate individually and safely. They didn’t cancel it in part because, at a time when we are deprived of socializing with other humans and are spending too much time indoors staring at screens, taking solace in nature is more helpful than ever.

Philly joined the challenge for the first time this year, supported by more than 40 partner organizations like Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, Clean Air Council, Friends of the Wissahickon, Laurel Hill Cemetery and Awbury Arboretum.

Do SomethingTeaching people to use the iNaturalist app is one way Awbury is working to introduce the community to Citizen Science—the theme of their 2020 programming. Citizen Science is the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research; it enables everyday people to make a direct contribution, while increasing their scientific understanding.

“People want to make a difference for the Earth regarding climate change and other stresses,” says Zimmerman, “But it’s kind of hard in your everyday life to know how to connect with that.”

Whether you can safely get to the woods, a city park, or are stuck exploring in and around your home, you can find naturally-occurring (no pets, and no human-cultivated/potted plants) living organisms and participate.

Here’s how it works:

  • Find a wild plant or organism and take a closeup, clear photo by tapping ‘Observe’ in the app. When you tap ‘View Suggestions,’ iNaturalist’s AI search will offer possible identifications based on your photo and location. You can click through and read about each species, look at additional photos and try to identify the organism.
  • After you do your best to identify your observation, you can share your photo.Video Other iNaturalist users will comment to confirm the identification. Once two-thirds of all commenters are in agreement, your photo is considered research grade.
  • Your photo is then included in a global database of when and where species are found. This data is shared with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, which scientists use to study changes in our natural world caused by climate change and habitat modifications and the overall health of our ecosystems.

Last year, iNaturalist data was used to publish more than 225 scientific papers including Climate change threatens New Guinea’s biocultural heritage, Research Gaps and Challenges in the Conservation and Use of North American Wild Lettuce Germplasm, and Distribution, conservation status, and abiotic stress tolerance potential of wild cucurbits.

Last winter, a beachgoer in Santa Barbara uploaded a photo of a washed-up seven-foot fish that he thought was the giant sunfish, Mola mola. The iNaturalist community chimed in with comments. Several fish scientists were tagged and joined the conversation. After the photographer was asked to go back and take more detailed photos, an Australian scientist determined that the fish was actually the Mola tecta—which had only been documented in the Northern Hemisphere once before.

Of course, most observations are not quite that groundbreaking, but they’re all valuable.

“Having accurate records supports everything from the health and aesthetics of the landscape to how we may wisely spend funds,” says Zimmerman of the value of documenting species at Awbury Arboretum.

Read MoreAs new, and often invasive, species show up, they can try to track the effect on native plants and animals; and as the climate changes they can see which species can still thrive and which are dying off—all of which helps them decide what to grow in the future, and whether to strengthen or remove certain habitats that can host native or discourage destructive species.

You can help record species at the Arboretum—though all offices are closed, the grounds are open daily from sunrise to sunset for free, and there’s plenty of room to maintain a safe distance.

“Even on your block, whatever’s growing up out of the sidewalk, is still a species of something surviving and making its home,” says Zimmerman. “Nature is available to you wherever you are in some small degree.”

Or you can participate from anywhere in Philadelphia, including your neighborhood park, or even your home (where you—or your kids—can hunt for the 90 different species of insects found in most houses).

“Even on your block, whatever’s growing up out of the sidewalk, is still a species of something surviving and making its home,” says Zimmerman. “Nature is available to you wherever you are in some small degree.”

And it’s also comforting. The sensory stimulation of feeling the sun and the wind, hearing birds chirping, seeing plants’ vibrant colors causes us to experience pleasure, says horticultural therapist Nancy Minich. And taking time to notice spring is helpful, too.

An empty bench surrounded by spring blooms is one of the photos in the City Nature Challenge in Philadelphia

“Take a walk and stop and look at the bark or look at the buds and then go back the next day and see the progress of something, how it opens up or how it changes overnight,” she says. At a time when all the days are blurring together, “seasonal changes are very important—they orient us.”

And as we learn about the natural world—starting in our own city—we start to form a relationship with the habitat and ecosystem that sustains our lives.

“The more interested people are in the environment, the better that we will take care of it,” says Zimmerman, “And the more people are outside, the better nature takes care of them.”

Photos courtesy Katherine Rapin

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