From turkey tail mushrooms to spiny softshell turtles, Londoners have already spotted more than 4,500 different species in the city through a nature-tracking app — including some rare and at-risk.
And that number is about to grow.
For the first time, London is joining a four-day global challenge to get more people out in nature documenting animals, plants and fungi to help scientists better protect rare and at-risk species and their habitats.
It’s all part of the City Nature Challenge running from Friday, April 28 to Monday, May 1. People can join in by taking photos and sound recordings of species in nature using the iNaturalist app — or by taking part in 18 different guided hikes in London, from bird watching to identifying trees and nocturnal insects.
The challenge is to see which participating city can make the most nature observations. This year, 42 municipalities are participating across Canada, and more than 450 cities around the world.
“Scientists can’t be everywhere, particularly in Canada,” said Kari Moreland, biology professor at Fanshawe College and organizer of the City Nature Challenge in London.
By collecting data on the app, the public helps scientists track biodiversity trends over time, detect invasive species and monitor rare species and their habitat, she said.
“We’re lucky in London that we have a lot of important ecological habitat,” she said.
Using the app is an easy way to learn how to identify plant, animal and fungi species and learn what’s around you, Moreland said. Just last week, an endangered red-headed woodpecker was spotted in north London, she noted.
Documenting nature is a way to ‘give back’
Canada has cataloged more than 50,000 wild species — and more than 2,000 of them face high risk of being wiped out, according to a Wild Species 2020 report.
In southern Ontario, we have some of the most biodiversity in the country, said Brendon Samuels, a PhD candidate in biology at Western University and on the organizing team of the challenge.
But it’s declining because of human activity and habitat loss, he said. That’s where this data can make a difference.
“A lot of folks are worried about the environment,” he said. “Being able to document nature and participate in stewardship is a good way to give back.”
Samuels has used iNaturalist data in his own research studying the problem of birds crashing into windows and buildings, he said.
“Collecting community science data, especially in urban environments like London, helps us to take better care of the natural heritage that we have here, so we have a sense of what is occurring in a given park or environmentally significant area,” Samuels said.
“That is really useful information for helping us to take better care of our relationships with those species,” Samuels said.
As people are concerned about losing habitat to things like development, the data helps get a better sense of what lives in any given area of the city, he said. “Then we can design more effective measures to protect that area.”
The iNaturalist app is really intuitive and simple for people to use, he said. It can be used on a smartphone or a computer, and a tutorial is available on their website.
Samuels will be leading hikes as part of the events through Western’s Biodiversity Inventory and Bird Friendly London. Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, Nature London and ReForest London are a few of the other groups leading hikes and events as part of the challenge.
“The City Nature Challenge is only a few days, but you’re always able to contribute to community science throughout the year, even if it’s just in your backyard,” said Samuels.
In 2022, nearly 77,000 nature observations were made of 4,551 species across Canada through the app.
Fanshawe College is hosting the challenge in London along with the Biodiversity Inventory at Western. The City Nature Challenge started in 2016 in California.