Missouri Botanical Garden Open Conference Systems, TDWG 2014 ANNUAL CONFERENCE

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Texas Parks and Wildlife Department uses iNaturalist to collect natural heritage data
Cullen Keaton Hanks

Building: Elmia Congress Centre, Jönköping
Room: Rydbergsalen
Date: 2014-10-30 02:00 PM – 02:15 PM
Last modified: 2014-10-03


The Wildlife Diversity Program (WDP) at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department maintains the Texas Natural Diversity Database (TXNDD), a centralized repository for state-level data on rare, threatened, and endangered species. As part of the NatureServe Network, the TXNDD uses Biotics software and applies NatureServe’s natural heritage methodology.  The TXNDD manages data on over 1,000 species of plants and animals. These data are used in environmental review, to assess conservation status, and as a tool for research efforts.  Given the large number of species tracked and the immense geographical extent of Texas, obtaining data is a significant logistical challenge.  To overcome this challenge, the WDP has a adopted a citizen science approach. Citizens have the opportunity to use the online and mobile platform, iNaturalist to generate photo-vouchered observations of tracked species. These observations are reviewed and validated by curators before acceptance into the TXNDD. The initial focus of the citizen science program has been a project targeting amphibians and reptiles, the Herps of Texas Project. Since its inception in 2011, this project has collected over 10,000 observations of amphibians and reptiles from over 500 participants.  It has also engaged a community of naturalists that were not previously contributing to our database.  To improve the quantity and quality of data, we are focusing on user experience. To instill a sense of achievement, we are promoting life lists, leaderboards, and challenges.  For 2014, we also established a Big Year Challenge to see who can find the most amphibian and reptile species during the calendar year. In addition, we are developing seasonal challenges that will highlight data gaps and herping opportunities. The validation process in iNaturalist has provided a critical opportunity for our curators to provide feedback to participants.  Most importantly, they either validate the identification or they provide tips on how to identify different species.  This is also an opportunity to highlight the significance of observations, such as when an observation is pushing the edge of the known range, or it represents a previously undocumented population of a rare species.  Moving forward, we plan to use our existing data to become more efficient at setting temporal and location targets, while systematically identifying and highlighting important observations of tracked species The Herps of Texas Project has generated high-quality data at relatively low cost while simultaneously engaging Texas citizens. This success has encouraged us, in collaboration with our partners NatureServe and iNaturalist, to initiate new citizen science programs focusing on other taxa.