iSpot comes to South Africa: your place to share nature!
For several months now, SANBI has been exploring iSpot as a tool to allow citizen scientists and the public to contribute information to SANBI’s conservation and species databases. This well known UK based website provides a platform for sharing knowledge and documenting a country’s biodiversity.
What is iSpot?
iSpot is essentially an avenue for laymen to contribute (usually by uploading images) interesting sightings of animals, plants and fungi that they encounter. Any observation, from the wilds or your garden, from an alien to a threatened species, from a known species to a query, from a common species to a rare one, is welcomed. Help with identifying unknown species is provided by iSpot.
The South African iSpot site can be found at http://za.ispot.org.uk
How does iSpot handle identification?
iSpot tackles identification in a novel way. Instead of waiting for professional experts to eventually have time to make an identification, it makes use of both professional and laymen experts to help train novices to become proficient in identifying species. Reputation badges are awarded to regular contributors for posting identifications that experts agree with, allowing one to progress from a novice to a highly knowledgeable status.
Observers with known proficiency in a group may also apply for a knowledgeable badge, and participate in training novices keen to get to grips with a group. Anyone can post an identification, and the “likely identification” is based on the number of people who confirm “I agree” with this identification and their reputation in the group. This system works exceptionally well: over 95% of species posted on iSpot are identified within 24 hours.
How will iSpot help you?
If you have taken images of plants, animals, insects etc. in specific locations, or made other observations, you can upload them to iSpot. If you are not sure of identity, other iSpot users may be able to identify them.
Also if you are one of those people who have over the years collected identification guides in a group that interested you, and then bemoaned how seldom one actually used those field guides, this is your chance to hone your skills by helping identify observations, meet people who have a similar interest to yours, learn from those who know more than you and teach those who know less.
If you would like to go the next step and start your own survey, or atlas project or society, iSpot is designed with this in mind. The overheads are minimal, as iSpot allows you to collect, store and access your data free of development and maintenance costs. You can advertise your project, open a special forum, and with tags, easily access and map observations special to your project, at the same time having access to general observations.
There is thus no excuse not to start photo collections for your favourite nature reserves, for your favourite groups, or to get other enthusiasts to help you with recording sightings of your study animals, or to coordinate local sightings of your “pet” otters, or to map distributions of rare or alien species.
How iSpot helps societies
Societies too can benefit by linking their website to iSpot. All members who apply will get a badge which links directly to the society’s web page. Thus each observation, identification, comment or forum topic posted by a society’s member is an advertisement for your society. Similarly, societies are welcome to organize projects and recording schemes, design identification tools and education programmes using iSpots tools.
Tools for iSpot users
Each user has their own page, which keeps tabs on other users commenting on, identifying or agreeing with any observation that they have participated in. One can also compile a favourite collection, look at maps of one’s observations and see what has been added to iSpot that you have not looked at yet.
A great mapping tool allows you to compile species lists for an area, filtered by group or date or observer or taxonomy or tag. One can thus easily make species maps, or see which areas need attention. However, special species (such as rhino, where the locality data may threaten the species) – as defined by the National Sensitive Species list can only be accessed on a 25 x 25 km grid basis. Concerned observers can also restrict locality availability for their records with a click of a button. And iSpot links directly to both Encyclopaedia of Life and the national Red List with one click: one-click access via SANBIs other online tools will follow in due course.
iSpot also lends itself to immediate response. Reserve managers can potentially map the distribution range of species by the hour, provided that they enlist the public to upload observations in their reserve using their cell phones. The alien invasive rapid response unit has a page on iSpot for submitting observations. The full potential of iSpot still needs to be explored.
A really fun tool is the dictionary. For any identified species you can explore relatives, move up the family tree and look at observations on iSpot, with a click of a button. This is a great educational tool: what is the elephants closest relatives? What is the hippo’s ancestry? It is also very useful for identifications.
iSPot has great education potential. Any scholar can use iSpot to find species near them, or to post species in their gardens or schools for identification and further information. Teachers can use iSpot for projects and workshops. In the UK the Open University uses iSpot for its taxonomy modules: students must post and identify species as part of their course-work. Conservation extension officers can use iSpot for “bioblitzes” to get local communities involved in helping compile species lists for nature reserves across all taxa, from plants to mammals to dragonflies.
It is proposed to officially launch iSpot-ZA in autumn 2012. Watch this space.