iNaturalist and iMapInvasives: Partners in Early Detection of Invasive Species
Article written by Lindsey Wise, Oregon iMapInvasives Data Administrator
When the Oregon iMapInvasives program was launched in 2011, one of the selling points of the online comprehensive invasive species management system was its ability to create early detection reports and alert users to new sightings of priority species. Early detection is a key premise in invasive species management. The idea is that the sooner you can find and manage an infestation, the cheaper it will be and the more likely you are to be successful.
This is great in theory, but in reality it is often several months or years before managers find established populations of invasive species. Managers have limited time and staff for surveying all their lands, and sites on private lands may not be reported, or land owners may not be familiar with the species or know that it is of concern. Online platforms like iNaturalist.org greatly increase our chances of finding new sites of invasive species by allowing anyone out observing nature to easily share what they see.
A huge benefit of the iNaturalist platform is that it allows users to add photos of species without having to know what they are. While iMapInvasives' online reporting requires the reporter to be familiar with the species before adding an observation and is more geared towards resource managers and trained volunteers, iNaturalist relies on its community to work together to suggest and confirm species names. This makes iNaturalist a great platform for anyone interested in nature and requires no training at all.
In the fall of 2015, Matt Schulfer, a teacher at the Oregon City Service Learning Academy in Oregon City, was preparing for a service learning field day that involved using iNaturalist. He was quickly running his new app through the paces and posted a photo of a plant in a hedgerow just outside his classroom door to iNaturalist, hoping someone would see the photo and provide an ID.
School teacher Matt Schulfer posted a picture of a plant outside his classroom on iNaturalist. Local experts confirmed it as Eggleaf Spurge, a prohibited noxious weed, leading to rapid and collaborative management with the school and the Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District.
As an avid iNaturalist user myself, I came across Matt’s photo while browsing recent sightings in the Portland Metro area and recognized it as a spurge (Euphorbia spp.). I had recently reported Eggleaf Spurge (Euphorbia oblongata), a List A prohibited noxious weed in Oregon, near my office. The city worked quickly to eradicate that site before it went to seed. Matt’s photo reminded me of the plants that I had found, though I couldn’t quite tell from the photo if it was the same species.
I notified my friend and colleague Jeff Lesh, another iNaturalist user who works with the WeedWise Program at the Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District whose office is located near the school. Jeff confirmed that it was Eggleaf Spurge and, in true service learning form, the school’s Horticulture/Garden club was interested in learning about the plant and removing it themselves. With the help of the Oregon City School District’s maintenance staff the students removed the toxic plant from school property. The maintenance staff will survey for it at other District properties and alter their maintenance on site to prevent further spread of this species.
“This experience confirmed for me the value of the iNaturalist platform for the early detection of high priority invasive plants. I know from personal and now professional experience how rewarding it is to use this platform to document, share, and discuss species observations. People can come to iNaturalist with all sorts of different motivations and still benefit from each other’s work,” - Jeff Lesh, WeedWise Program, Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District
iNaturalist projects allow observations for certain places and species to be collected in one place. Oregon iMapInvasives has gathered over 600 sightings of invasive species from iNaturalist users to be incorporated into the statewide iMapInvasives database.
Since Matt’s report of Eggleaf Spurge, I have created a project on iNaturalist to capture this and hundreds of other observations of invasive species in Oregon. Jeff and I and other taxon experts are able to help with identifications and can provide advice for management. The iNaturalist platform not only provides us with valuable data for both lower priority commonly encountered invasive species and high priority rapid response candidates, it also builds a community and fosters relationships between management agencies and the public.
Oregon is not the only iMapInvasives program to take advantage of the iNaturalist community. New York, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Saskatchewan all have projects as well, funneling hundreds of sightings from iNaturalist to the iMapInvasives database and putting this information in the hands of land managers and agencies. So next time you see a suspicious looking patch of plants or any living thing you’d like to know the name of, try putting it up on iNaturalist. You could help prevent the spread of an invasive species!