Shirley Zundell helped create the Essex and Essex Jct. iNaturalist page in April of this year. Now, she urges locals to start participating in the simple but “addictive” citizen science project.
iNaturalist is a nature app that allows anyone around the world to record observations of plants and animals in their area. Naturalists from all over the world can view postings and help identify species, creating research-grade data for scientists to use in research projects.
“You don’t have to go out somewhere. You can stay right at home and photograph a spider you see in your house,” Zundell explained. “Or if you go outside and notice a weed in your garden, put that on and let somebody know that species is growing in your yard.”
Zundell said gathering this data is also important for recording the biodiversity of an area.
“It’s great for the town because it’s helping to document everything that’s in the town, all the natural things,” she said. The Essex page she manages is part of a larger project in iNaturalist called the Vermont Atlas of Life.
The VAL’s iNaturalist page admits no one really knows just how many species of plants and animals occur in Vermont. Data that individual observers gather all over the state is helping to create a more detailed map of Vermont’s natural history, the page says.
Zundell has logged 397 observations in the Essex iNaturalist page, the most for any observer in the town. But she said that’s nothing.
Erika Mitchell from Calais is currently the top iNaturalist observer in Vermont with over 32,000 observations in the state alone.
“She just walks the roads and makes observations,” Zundell said, explaining how easy it is for residents to participate.
While Zundell only uses the desktop version of iNaturalist, she noted the ease of taking photos and uploading them using the app on a cell phone. Plus, she said, you don’t have to have an education in science to participate.
“I have a background in social sciences,” Zundell said. “All this is new to me.”
Obviously passionate about the project, Zundell said she goes out exploring all the time to find new species. “It becomes addictive after a while,” she said. “You find something and it’s just nice to be able to identify it.”