Earth Day is a day to celebrate the environment. This year is particularly special as it marks the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day (April 22). Today, just as in 1970, Earth Day participants promote awareness of environmental issues such as climate change, air and water pollution, and the preservation of biodiversity. However, Earth Day 2020 is unique because of the global pandemic that we are currently living through. The novel coronavirus COVID-19 has rapidly spread, and we are called to distance from our friend, families, and places of work. How can we celebrate Earth Day and the environment while also staying home?
Denver Botanic Gardens is engaging with Earth Day 2020 by promoting citizen science. Through citizen science, any person, of any age, living anywhere, with any professional background can participate in research by collecting and sharing environmental data. Research initiatives across the globe aim to answer several environmental questions and citizen scientists are needed to accelerate data collection for these studies. Becoming a citizen scientist is as easy as downloading the iNaturalist mobile application on to your smartphone and spending time outdoors in your community.
iNaturalist allows users to publish photos of any kind of organism – plant, animal, fungus, insect, and more – with data on when and where it was observed. Using data previously published, iNaturalist will suggest an identification for the observation and other users will verify the identification or provide their own. This allows users to learn about biodiversity while they are observing it.
Earth Day 2020 is unique because of the global pandemic that we are currently living through.
If you are interested in exploring citizen science, we invite you to participate in Denver Botanic Gardens’ EcoFlora Project. The Denver EcoFlora Project calls on citizen scientists to document the native plant species in the Denver-Boulder metro area through use of iNaturalist. The Denver EcoFlora Project has two main goals: 1) to meaningfully engage citizens in observing, protecting, and preserving the metro area’s native plant species and 2) to assemble novel observations and data on the metro area’s flora to better inform policy decisions concerning land management and conservation strategies.
Each iNaturalist observation is an invaluable point of data that can be used to empower research and inform policies which drive meaningful change. Much like the natural history collections stored in the Kathryn Kalmbach Herbarium at Denver Botanic Gardens, each observation you make using iNaturalist represents a moment in time – what organism was living in a particular place at a particular moment in time. The combination of natural history collections and iNaturalist observations will give researchers at Denver Botanic Gardens millions of moments in time that can be used to answer questions related to biodiversity, climate change, and rare and invasive plants.
Participation is easy too. You don’t have to travel far – you can document the flowering plants you see while walking in your neighborhood, enjoying your local park, or even while looking out your window. As long as your observations are taken within the Denver-Boulder metro area boundary and successfully uploaded to iNaturalist, they will automatically be added to the Denver EcoFlora project. You can check identifications given to your observations and view those of other citizen scientists online by visiting the Denver EcoFlora page on iNaturalist at inaturalist.org/projects/denver-ecoflora-project.
As an EcoFlora participant, it is up to you how much or how little you take part. Do only what feels safe for you and your family and make sure you are following your local regulations. It is imperative that you follow the regulations of your governments and the organizations where you work.
We hope you will join us in documenting the biodiversity in your communities. Many around the world are documenting nature in whatever way they can during these unprecedented times. We can’t wait to see what you all find. We look forward to seeing you at Denver Botanic Gardens as soon as it is safe to do so.
Jennifer Ackerfield is the Head Curator of Natural History Collections and Associate Director of Biodiversity Research. This article produced by the Denver Botanic Gardens.
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