In This Nature Challenge, Cities Compete To Find The Most Wildlife

The smart phone app iNaturalist can identify plants, animals and fungi.
The smart phone app iNaturalist can identify plants, animals and fungi.
Credit Fernbank Museum
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This weekend, Atlanta participates for the first time in an international competition to see how much wildlife is in the metro area, and how many people will get out and help document it.

This is the fourth year of the City Nature Challenge, a competition first started between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This year, nearly 150 cities are competing to get the highest number of species, the highest number of participants, and the highest number of observations overall.

Eli Dickerson, staff ecologist at Fernbank Museum of Natural History, said he thinks Atlanta has a good shot at doing well among other first-time cities.

“Atlanta is absolutely perfect for this challenge,” he said.

That’s because of where Atlanta is. There are some coastal species here and some mountain species. They all come together in the Piedmont.

“We have tremendous reptile diversity, tremendous amphibian diversity,” he said. “The more we get out and look for these things, researchers in Atlanta are realizing that some of these more rare and unusual organisms — salamanders for instance — they’re here, they’re in the city.”

The idea of this challenge is to get as many people as possible participating. To join, people download a smart phone app called iNaturalist, then get outside and document some wild things, wherever they are.

“The cool thing about City Nature Challenge is you can do it in your backyard, local park, Fernbank Forest, any greenspace,” Dickerson said. “You could be walking down the sidewalk. Anything you observe you can log in the challenge.”

The app uses photo recognition software to identify species, and other people using iNaturalist will help with IDs, too, so no need to have a clue about wildlife. Though for people who do have a clue, for instance, birders who can recognize a bird by ear, or far away in flight, Dickerson said those IDs can get added, too.

The deadline to upload observations to iNaturalist is Monday at midnight. Winners will be announced a week after that.

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