There is an app for that

There is an app for that

A Saguaro from iNaturalist and licensed under Creative Commons. Credit: Marianne Skov Jensen

Seen an interesting plant while hiking in Arizona and want to learn more about it while contributing to our unique ecosystem?

There is an app for that.

The iNaturalist app allows users — also known as community scientists or iNaturalists — to take a picture of a plant while collecting GPS data about the plant’s location. The application then uses an algorithm to probabilistically identify the species for community scientists, and then assigns the final confirmation of species identification to expert naturalists.

Sara Souther, an assistant professor in the NAU School of Earth and Sustainability, is a member of the Tribal Nations Botanical Research Collaborative, which uses the app to better track species diversity among plants whose traditional uses have important cultural, medicinal, or economic value to tribes. . communities. It takes the smartphone that 96 percent of Americans carry with them all the time and uses it to capture high-quality ecological data on species diversity at an unprecedented rate and scale.

Suddenly, everyone is paying attention to the health of plants that play an important role in tribal traditions, and that’s exactly what the creators want.

“Culturally important species are critical to the continuation of traditional ways of life,” Souther said. “Although these plants are not endangered, the traditions associated with these species are threatened by a myriad of factors, including globalization, cultural and linguistic erosion, and land access issues. Because the land held by Native American tribal nations is only a fraction of the ancestral lands of Native Americans. people, it’s important to preserve these species on public lands and welcome traditional harvesting practices.”

A banana yucca plant from iNaturalist and used under a Creative Commons license. Credit: Matt Berger

The project began because two US Forest Service tribal liaisons, Nanebah and Mike Lyndon, received frequent requests from tribal community partners for information on where to harvest. They also asked what the USFS was doing to ensure the continued viability of these culturally important plant species, and the idea for the iNaturalist app was born. From there, the researchers compared lists of culturally significant plant species prepared by representatives of seven Arizona tribal nations.

Sensitive species have been removed from the list to ensure cultural knowledge is preserved. The 34 plant species are often overlooked because they are neither invasive nor endangered. Collecting information about these species will help fill a critical knowledge gap to ensure the survival of culturally important species for future generations, Souther said.

Plants include familiar species such as saguaro, sunflower, yucca and juniper, and others that are less recognizable – coyote tobacco, broom snake grass, Goodding willow and curly dock. The saguaro and banana yucca are the most noticeable.

“I think every plant is beautiful and unique,” Souther said. “I really like the yucca species because they are easy to identify, contain a substance that can be used as a natural shampoo, and produce fruits that can be cooked and eaten.”

Data is used in a variety of ways. Tribal partners can request information on harvest sites, while researchers use the data to create habitat suitability models that can be used to identify new population sites and understand what environmental factors contribute to the growth of these species. The data also provides an early warning system – a sharp drop in sightings triggers a field survey to determine if something is threatening the plants and then needs to be dealt with.

To become an iNaturalist, download the app and search for Tribal Nations Botanical Research Collaborative. Join the project and start taking photos.

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