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INaturalist logo.png
Type of site
Citizen science
Available in37 languages
Area servedWorldwide
OwnerCalifornia Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society
UsersIncrease 1.8 million registered users (December 2020)[1]
Launched2008; 13 years ago (2008)
Current statusActive

iNaturalist is a social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe.[2][3] iNaturalist may be accessed via its website or from its mobile applications.[4][5] As of February 2021, iNaturalist users had contributed approximately 66 million observations of plants, animals, fungi, and other organisms worldwide, and around 130,000 users were active in the previous 30 days.[6]

iNaturalist describes itself as "an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature", with its primary goal being to connect people to nature.[7] Although it is not a science project itself, iNaturalist is a platform for science and conservation efforts, providing valuable open data to research projects, land managers, other organizations, and the public.[7][8] It is the primary application for crowd-sourced biodiversity data in places such as Mexico, southern Africa, and Australia,[9][10][11] and the project has been called "a standard-bearer for natural history mobile applications."[12]


iNaturalist began in 2008 as a UC Berkeley School of Information Master's final project of Nate Agrin, Jessica Kline, and Ken-ichi Ueda.[2] Nate Agrin and Ken-ichi Ueda continued work on the site with Sean McGregor, a web developer. In 2011, Ueda began collaboration with Scott Loarie, a research fellow at Stanford University and lecturer at UC Berkeley. Ueda and Loarie are the current co-directors of[2] The organization merged with the California Academy of Sciences on April 24, 2014.[13] In 2017, iNaturalist became a joint initiative between the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.[2]

Since 2012, the number of participants and observations has roughly doubled each year.[14] In 2014, iNaturalist reached 1 million observations[15] and as of February 2021 there were 66 million observations.[6]


Man in baseball cap in a prairie taking a photo of a pink wildflower with his smartphone
Taking a photo of Asclepias amplexicaulis (clasping milkweed) for iNaturalist
iNaturalist website screenshot with photo of a pink flower on left and details with a map on the right
Screenshot of an observation at with CC-BY photo license type indicated

Users can interact with iNaturalist in several ways:

On the website, visitors can search the public dataset and interact with other people adding observations and identifications. The website provides tools for registered users to add, identify, and discuss observations, write journal posts, explore information about species, and create project pages to recruit participation in and coordinate work on their topics of interest.[18][19][20]

On the iNaturalist mobile app, registered users can create and share nature observations to the online dataset, explore nearby observations, and learn about different species.[18][21]

Seek by iNaturalist, a separate app designed for children and families, requires no online account registration and all observations may remain private.[22] Seek incorporates features of gamification, such as providing a list of nearby organisms to find and encouraging the collection of badges and participation in challenges.[23] Seek was initially released in the spring of 2018.[22]


The iNaturalist platform is based on crowdsourcing of observations and identifications. An iNaturalist observation records a person's encounter with an individual organism at a particular time and place.[18] An iNaturalist observation may also record evidence of an organism, such as animal tracks, nests, or scat. The scope of iNaturalist excludes natural but inert subjects such as geologic or hydrologic features. Users typically upload photos as evidence of their findings, though audio recordings are also accepted and such evidence is not a strict requirement. Users may share observation locations publicly, "obscure" them to display a less precise location, or make the locations completely private.

On iNaturalist, other users add identifications to each other's observations in order to confirm or improve the identification of the observation. Observations are classified as "Casual," "Needs ID" (needs identification), or "Research Grade" based on the quality of the data provided and the community identification process. Any quality of data can be downloaded from iNaturalist and "Research Grade" observations are often incorporated into other online databases such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and the Atlas of Living Australia.[8][24]

Automated species identification[edit]

In addition to observations being identified by others in the community, iNaturalist includes an automated species identification tool, first released in 2017.[25] Images can be identified via a computer vision model which has been trained on the large database of the observations on iNaturalist.[18] If the image is of a little-observed species, one hard to identify from images alone, or it has poor lighting, is blurry, or contains multiple subjects, it can be difficult for the model to determine the species and it may decide incorrectly. Multiple species suggestions are typically provided with the suggestion that the software guesses to be most likely is at the top of the list. A broader taxon such as a genus or family is commonly provided if the model cannot decide what the species is. The model is trained once or twice a year and the threshold for species included in the training set has changed over time.[26]


Using the iNaturalist app

Users have created and contributed to tens of thousands of different projects on iNaturalist.[6][27] The platform is commonly used to record observations during bioblitzes, which are biological surveying events that attempt to record all the species that occur within a designated area, and a specific project type on iNaturalist.[28][29][30] Other project types include collections of observations by location or taxon, or documenting specific types of observations such as animal tracks and signs,[31] the spread of invasive species, roadkill,[32] fishing catches, or discovering new species.[19] In 2011, iNaturalist was used as a platform to power the Global Amphibian and Global Reptile BioBlitzes, in which observations were used to help monitor the occurrence and distribution of the world's reptiles and amphibian species.[33] The US National Park Service partnered with iNaturalist to record observations from the 2016 National Parks BioBlitz. That project exceeded 100,000 observations in August 2016.[28] In 2017, the United Nations Environment Programme teamed up with iNaturalist to celebrate World Environment Day.[34]

City Nature Challenge[edit]

In 2016, Lila Higgins from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and Alison Young from the California Academy of Sciences co-founded the City Nature Challenge (CNC). In the first City Nature Challenge, naturalists in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area documented over 20,000 observations with the iNaturalist platform.[35] In 2017, the CNC expanded to 16 cities across the United States and collected over 125,000 observations of wildlife in 5 days.[36] The CNC expanded to a global audience in 2018, with 68 cities participating from 19 countries, with some cities using community science platforms other than iNaturalist to participate.[29] In 4 days, over 17,000 people cataloged over 440,000 nature observations in urban regions around the world.[37] In 2019, the CNC once again expanded, with 35,000 participants in 159 cities collecting 964,000 observations of over 31,000 species.[29] Although fewer observations were documented during the 2020 City Nature Challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic (when the CNC became collaborative as opposed to competitive), more cities and people participated and more species were found than in previous years.[38]


Users have the option to license their observations, photos, and audio recordings in several ways, including for the public domain, Creative Commons, or with all rights reserved. To encourage the sharing of information and to reduce costs, iNaturalist encourages users to license media with Creative Commons licenses.[39] The default license is CC BY-NC,[39] meaning others are free to copy, redistribute, remix, transform, and build upon the media as long as appropriate credit is given, changes are indicated, a link to the license is provided, and it is not used for commercial purposes.[40]

Observations and media licensed with Creative Commons licenses are often shared elsewhere, including the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (excluding share-alike and no derivatives licenses),[41] Atlas of Living Australia,[42] and Wikipedia (excluding noncommercial and no derivatives licenses)[43] through regular imports[18][42] or user scripts such as iNaturalist2Commons[44] and Wiki Loves iNaturalist.[45]

The iNaturalist website and mobile apps are free software released under the MIT License.[46][47]



  1. ^ "Year On iNaturalist 2020". iNaturalist. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d "About". 5 August 2013. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  3. ^ "San Francisco's Parks Scoured in Wildlife Inventory". 7 May 2014. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  4. ^ a b "iNaturalist application (Google Play)". 4 June 2013. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  5. ^ a b "iNaturalist application (iTunes Store)". 25 June 2013. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  6. ^ a b c " Stats". 13 September 2020. Retrieved 17 November 2020.
  7. ^ a b "What is it". iNaturalist. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  8. ^ a b c Bowser, A., Wiggins, A., Shanley, L., Preece, J., & Henderson, S. (2014). "Sharing data while protecting privacy in citizen science" (PDF). Interactions. 21 (1): 70–73. doi:10.1145/2540032.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Pimm, S. L.; Jenkins, C. N.; Abell, R.; Brooks, T. M.; Gittleman, J. L.; Joppa, L. N.; Raven, P. H.; Roberts, C. M.; Sexton, J. O. (2014). "The biodiversity of species and their rates of extinction, distribution, and protection" (PDF). Science. 344 (6187): 1246752. doi:10.1126/science.1246752. PMID 24876501.
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  11. ^ "ALA—iNaturalist collaboration". Atlas of Living Australia. 8 May 2019. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  12. ^ Goldsmith, G. R. (6 August 2015). "The field guide, rebooted". Science. 349 (6248): 594. doi:10.1126/science.aac7810.
  13. ^ "California Academy of Sciences Acquires iNaturalist". 14 May 2014. Archived from the original on 17 May 2014. Retrieved 14 May 2014.
  14. ^ "50 million observations on iNaturalist!". 20 September 2020. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  15. ^ Hance, Jeremy (November 10, 2014). "Citizen scientist site hits one million observations of life on Earth". Mongabay.
  16. ^ "Seek by iNaturalist on the App Store". App Store. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  17. ^ "App: Seek". Google Play. Retrieved 2019-05-26.
  18. ^ a b c d e "Help". Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  19. ^ a b "Managing Projects". 2018-10-05. Retrieved 2018-10-05.
  20. ^ Drury, Jonathan P.; Barnes, Morgan; Finneran, Ann E.; Harris, Maddie; Grether, Gregory F. E. (2019). "Continent-scale phenotype mapping using citizen scientists' photographs". Ecography. Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  21. ^ Jabr, Ferris (2017-12-06). "Letter of Recommendation: iNaturalist". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  22. ^ a b "Seek App -". Retrieved 2018-12-03.
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  24. ^ "Welcome, iNaturalist Australia!". 30 September 2019. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  25. ^ "iNaturalist Computer Vision Explorations". 2017-07-27. Retrieved 2017-08-12.
  26. ^ "A New Vision Model!". 18 March 2020. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  27. ^ "Projects". 28 January 2017. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  28. ^ a b Seltzer, Carrie (2016-08-25). "Citizen scientists give NPS 100,000+ biodiversity records for 100th birthday". National Geographic Society (blogs). Retrieved 2016-09-17.
  29. ^ a b c "". 2019. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  30. ^ Catling, Paul M.; Kostiuk, Brenda; Heron, Jennifer; Jimenez, Runel; Chapman, Monique; Gamiet, Sharmin; Sterenberg, Velma (5 June 2018). "Highlights from the Northwest Territories BioBlitzes". The Canadian Field-Naturalist. 131 (4): 386. doi:10.22621/cfn.v131i4.2099.
  31. ^ "North American Animal Tracking Database". 2018-10-05. Retrieved 2018-10-05.
  32. ^ "Adventure Scientists Wildlife Connectivity Study". 2018-10-05. Retrieved 2018-10-05.
  33. ^ Holtz, Debra Levi (October 10, 2011). "Reptile, amphibian BioBlitzes tap social media". San Francisco Chronicle.
  34. ^ "App brings marvels of tech and nature together to keep the world connected". Archived from the original on 2017-10-19. Retrieved 2017-05-16.
  35. ^ "City Nature Challenge 2016 iNaturalist Project". 2018. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  36. ^ "City Nature Challenge 2017 iNaturalist Project". 2018. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  37. ^ Higgins, Lila (4 May 2018). "City Nature Challenge 2018: A Win For Urban Nature Around the World". Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County.
  38. ^ Young, Alison; Higgins, Lila; Jaecker-Jones, Amy (4 May 2020). "City Nature Challenge RESULTS". Retrieved 13 September 2020.
  39. ^ a b "We want you to license your iNaturalist photos before April 15th!". iNaturalist. 24 March 2021. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  40. ^ "Creative Commons — Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International — CC BY-NC 4.0". Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  41. ^ "Terms of use". Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  42. ^ a b "How is data harvested from iNaturalist and fed into the ALA?". ARDC Support. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  43. ^ "Wikipedia:FAQ/Copyright". Wikipedia. 15 November 2020. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  44. ^ "User:Kaldari/iNaturalist2Commons". Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  45. ^ "Wiki loves iNaturalist". Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  46. ^ "Developers". iNaturalist. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  47. ^ iNaturalistAndroid, INaturalistIOS, SeekReactNative on Github

External links[edit]