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Naturalists Use Phones to 'Capture' Animals


A smartphone program is helping scientists learn about changes taking place in nature. More than 100,000 citizen-scientists around the world are taking pictures of many kinds of plants and animals using a program called iNaturalist.

The program gives researchers large amounts of information about where plants and animals live, and how a growing human population is changing plant and animal life.

In Arlington, Virginia, experts and volunteers are making a record of the plants and animals that live in the heavily populated area. VOA followed them as they worked on a recent day.

Alonso Abugattas is the local government’s natural resources manager. He works to protect and improve Arlington’s natural spaces.

“Everyone knows that if you want to protect something, you’ve got to know what you have.”

The group is using the iNaturalist smartphone program to record its observations. Then iNaturalist users throughout the world can look at the images and try to help identify it.

The program records where and when the picture was taken. This lets experts like Abugattas and others create maps that show where plants and animals are living, and how that changes because of development and climate change.

“Are some things that we had then no longer here? Are some things that we never knew we had now popping back up? And that will give us a gauge of how good or how poorly we’re doing as far as being stewards.”

That is important in Arlington and around the world. Scott Loarie is co-director of iNaturalist. He spoke to VOA on Skype. He said species are dying at a faster rate than ever, and the mix of life on Earth is threatened.

“And we’ve only begun to understand exactly how those ecosystems contribute to our food system, or human health -- all these things that we depend on.”

Loarie says iNaturalist lets citizen-scientists help professional scientists gather data.

More than 100,000 iNaturalist observers on all seven continents have made more than four-and-a-half million observations.

The information has been used in studies of monarch butterflies, bats that may carry Ebola, and other animals.

Alonso Abugattas says the group in Arlington recorded more than 450 kinds of animals and plants.

“If you just open up your eyes to the natural world, you’d be amazed at what’s out there.”

I’m Lucija Millonig.

VOA Science and Agriculture Correspondent Steve Baragona reported this story from Arlington, Virginia. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

smartphone n. a mobile telephone that can be used to send and receive e-mail, connect to the Internet, take photographs, etc.

pop up – v. re-appear; to appear in usually a sudden or unexpected way

gauge v. to make a judgment about (something); to measure (something)

steward n. someone who protects or is responsible for money, property, etc.

contribute v. to help to cause something to happen

amaze – adj. feeling or showing great surprise

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