SA 'citizen scientists' share online

2013-05-29 14:40
An observation uploaded by Lee Jones. (iSpot)

An observation uploaded by Lee Jones. (iSpot)

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Cape Town - A southern African nature sharing website is gaining momentum with over 50 000 observations as ‘citizen scientists’ contribute to the online project.

iSpot southern Africa was launched in 2011 and gives nature enthusiasts the opportunity to share knowledge, learn, and contribute to the conservation of local plants and animals by uploading and identifying interesting observations.

The site has recently exceeded 50 000 observations uploaded by it’s over 2 500 users. These observations have been translated into almost 100 000 agreements, which serves to verify species.

Sarah-Leigh Hutchinson who works for the South African National Biodiversity Institute’s (Sanbi) threatened species program says iSpot has grown alot since its inception.

“It’s one of those things where the more people use it, the better it becomes, like Facebook or Twitter. It’s run by the users,” she told News24. "Its what people are calling citizen science, its bringing science to the people."

“Its scientists, beginners, and people that are learning, so all are sharing knowledge and it’s an educational tool to learn what your local plants and animals are.”

According to Hutchinson iSpot works like a virtual museum made up of observations uploaded by users. These may include any interesting plants, animals, or fungi.

Once a photograph has been uploaded and identified other users can agree or add a revised identification.

iSpot is proving to be a valuable tool for users who are running their own surveys or atlas projects and has already made some valuable contributions to science.

“We’ve had amazing stories of new species that have been found and range extensions where we thought species were just found in certain areas, but then someone puts up photos of something and we realise that the species actually occurs further than we thought,” Hutchinson said.

The iSpot project has also lead to the discovery of a new species of Monkey Beetle at the Elandsberg Nature Reserve.
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