Contributing to research in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can be as easy as snapping a photo, thanks to iNaturalist.
With the iNaturalist app, people easily share photos and other observations for community science projects.
It doesn’t matter if you know what the plant or animal is, the artificial intelligence in the app as well as other iNaturalist members can help.
“If people use iNaturalist in the park, it automatically gets added to our park projects,” said Susan Sachs, education branch coordinator for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
If they don’t have internet connectivity when they snap the image, they can upload the photo later and tag it with the general location.
That information helps with park management.
Discover Life in America, which oversees an effort to document all species in the GSMNP, also uses the app to help with its All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory.
“We’re looking for help from hikers through their iPhone to document certain species that are on our priority list,” DLiA Executive Director Todd Witcher said.
Photos of those species are included in the iNaturalist page for the project.
A collaboration among the national park, Maryville College and the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont also is using iNaturalist to study the otter population.
Trapping and habitat destruction eliminated otters from the area by the early 1900s, but an effort to reintroduce them began in 1986. Over several years, the National Park Service released 137 otters from North Carolina, South Carolina and Louisiana in the park. Now scientists believe they can be found throughout the park’s drainage areas.
Even if you don’t spot an otter, a photo of its tracks or scat can help monitor of the species.