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1,000 in 50: iNaturalist’s Big Year 2021 Challenge

By: Andrew Rutland

For any intrepid naturalists looking for a reason to get outside this winter, iNaturalist has a challenge for amateurs and professionals alike: identify 1,000 plant species within 50km of your home by the end of 2021.

Each year, iNaturalist – the popular ecological data crowdsourcing platform, used by citizen scientists and professional researchers alike – hosts ‘Big Year Challenges’, which often includes prompting users to join the “1,000 Club” of naturalists who observe at least 1,000 species in a given year. This particular challenge is limited to Ontarians and the big twist is that only observations recorded within 50km from your home can count towards your 1,000.

To give you a sense of what that looks like, we’ve taken the liberty of using iNaturalist’s website to map a 50km radius from Environment 3.

As you can see, assuming you live near campus, there’s plenty of opportunity to identify a variety of species within this space. It includes a long stretch of the Grand River, from its many and varied headwaters north of Waterloo to its large, sinuous meanders near Brantford, with the whole gradient of aquatic plants to match. Interesting terrestrial habitats are included as well, including plenty of woodlands, rocky meadows, and the Niagara Escarpment.

With the whole year ahead of us now, we have the opportunity to capture the full seasonal variety of plants as they appear and bloom, from trout lilies and swamp marigolds in the spring, to the opulent blooms of goldenrods and asters in the fall. Contestants are not not limited to vascular plants either, and can submit observations of mosses, liverworts and even algae as well.

If the opportunity to explore and learn about the plant life in your area isn’t enough, there’s even prizes at stake to sweeten the pot. The challenger on iNaturalist says anyone who identifies 1,000 species anywhere by midnight on December 31st can receive a small prize, but there will be special rewards for those who accomplish this within the 50km from their home. Neither prize is described, however.

You can see the full details of the challenge and set up your own 50km circle here, but from iNaturalist, here are the rules:

  1.  All observations must be from within the province of Ontario
  2. Observations must be made between January 1 and December 31, 2021
  3. Observations must have a photo
  4. Observations must be of wild plants. This is always a contentious one. “Wild” means that a) the organism was not deliberately planted by humans and b) the organism is clearly established and reproducing independently of human intervention. Yes, there is some grey area (what to do about plants introduced outside of their native range as part of “restoration” projects?), but in general, make an effort to observe plants that form part of the natural ecosystem (which can include non-native species).
  5. Observations must be submitted before midnight on December 31, 2021, to count towards the competitive stats. For those not feeling competitive, the project will always be open and you can contribute observations indefinitely.

I’ll be beginning my own attempt soon, starting slow with some simple trees and plants in the parks near my house, but looking forward to the spring when the real challenge to catalogue seasonal plants can start. I hope wherever you are studying from this year, you can take this as an opportunity to safely spend some time outdoors and learn more about the natural landscape around you to boot.

Happy trails!

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