In mid June, as part of Darwin Tree of Life’s public engagement activities, a two day BioBlitz was held at Little Sparta, the home of Ian Hamilton Finlay, in the Pentland Hills about 40 km southwest of Edinburgh.
The Darwin Tree of Life project aims to generate complete genome sequences for 70,000 British and Irish species. One of the biggest challenges with this ambitious target is finding the species in the first place, and the role of amateur naturalists in this is critical.
As well as showcasing the value of biological recording, the Little Sparta event was a potential source of samples for genome sequencing from the current hit list of 2,000 species. By the end of the event 21 species, mostly moths and beetles, had been sampled for genome sequencing at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge.
BioBlitz engagement helped by iNaturalist
The aim of a BioBlitz is to record as many species as possible in a set period. Getting the public involved is also important to many BioBlitz events, and this was helped using the iNaturalist app that enables complete beginners to contribute biological records using their smartphones.
The final total of species recorded, excluding some yet-to-be-identified moths and other insects, was 326.
From a public engagement perspective, the iNaturalist app opened new opportunities. People who had not done biological recording before were able to contribute records and found the app easy to use.
Unknown species can still be recorded, and identifications can be suggested by other users. Often these suggestions came from others at the BioBlitz, but an interesting outcome was the more than 40 other users of the app who were not present at Little Sparta who helped with species identifications. The app did seem to live up to the billing of being a community for naturalists.
At this point in time, over 75% of the 326 records made via the app had reached what is called ‘research grade’. This is a data quality check that involves a second user having agreed with an existing identification. Such records can then flow into a data checking process that could see them becoming part of the national biological records that are publicly available online via the NBN Atlas.
You can read the full article here.
You can find out more about iNaturalist and other ways of getting involved in recording here.