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Mobile Phone Apps for identifying & recording fauna & flora

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The following is a brief introduction to a variety of applications that are available for tracking sightings of flora and fauna, as well as for reference and learning purposes. The focus of the list of applications below is on Southern Africa, though some of them cover wider regions.

Some of these applications illustrate the major role played by “citizen science” both in recording biodiversity and in empowering and educating the public about the flora and fauna in their local ecosystems.

Citizen science involves “…collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists.” (Oxford Languages, https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/). It is often also a very efficient way of collecting a large amount of data over a short period of time.

Apps that cover a range of flora & fauna

iNaturalist

inaturalist-android-logo

Cost: Free

User friendliness: You can create an account using your existing account e.g. Gmail or another email address or Facebook. You can record and save your observations.

Description: iNaturalist is a social network of naturalists, biologists and citizen scientists. It is built on the notion of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe. The app needs access to your photographs, which are shared with the public. There are many different project themes of species to look up and add to. Information given includes behavioural adaptations, diet, habitat, conservation status and some websites about the species.

Region covered: Global but you can use your location to find files on species specific to Africa or Southern Africa

How to get the app: Download from Playstore or Appstore. It is about 48MB.

Seek by iNaturalist

Seek by iNaturalist

Cost: Free

User friendliness: Flora and fauna that are commonly sighted in your area are listed with photographs (loaded by other users) which makes them easy to identify quickly

Description: This app is for records of your personal identification of flora and fauna using photographs. The app uses powerful image recognition, comparing your photographs to the iNaturalist server records (which are based on photographs uploaded by the public) to help you identify the species you have seen. None of the photographs you take are uploaded to public records (unless you do so from the iNaturalist app).

Region covered: Covers many regions around the world. The app will ask for your location and then you can see sightings specific to your region.

How to get the app: Download from Playstore or Appstore. It is 292MB

What is the difference between Seek by iNaturalist and iNaturalist?

Seek also uses data submitted to iNaturalist to show suggestions for “species nearby,” but unlike iNaturalist, findings made with Seek will not be shared publicly, making it safe for children to use. Seek is geared to encourage outdoor exploration of wild biodiversity (rather than pets, zoo animals, or garden plants)

Birds

Sasol eBirds of Southern Africa

Sasol eBirds

Cost: about 25 USD. There is a LITE version (free), which is about 63MB to download, but it covers fewer bird species.

User friendliness: you can set your region (location) and you can save bird sightings to your own personal list (this is private and not shared). This app is useful because it provides recorded calls for many bird species so you can identify them without seeing them.

Description: The latest version covers 994 species of birds in Southern Africa.

Region covered: Southern Africa

How to get the app: Need to pay for it using a credit card on the Appstore or play store. The main version is large, about 1GB to download once you have paid.

Roberts’ Bird Guide 2 (Southern Africa)

Roberts App for Birds

Cost: About  34 USD

User friendliness: similar to the Sasol eBirds app

Description: very similar to the Sasol eBirds app

Region covered: Southern Africa

How to get the app: Need to pay using a credit card on the Appstore or Playstore. The main version is large (about 9MB) to download once you have paid.

Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Institute of Ornithology

Merlin Bird ID

Cost: Free

User friendliness: This is a powerful app because it is based on a range of information. The app is being developed to be able to identify birds from photos you take or recordings of the calls that you take. This is however still in development for Southern Africa. You can save your personal list of bird sightings. The birds are listed by also showing the months and the places that you are likely to see them.

Description: this app has a comprehensive set of data. When you log a sighting, it is sent to a server and made public, meaning that interesting information on sighting frequency and seasonality can be tracked for the region.

Region covered: You download the whole app and then a pack specific for your region. The most detailed data currently is for North America and Europe but it works for Southern Africa too. The bird pack for Zimbabwe covers 577 bird species

How to get the app: Download from Playstore or Appstore. It is 52MB but will take 173MB of your storage. The bird pack for Zimbabwe is 542MB.

Also: there is a website where you can see more detailed information. See end of this article.

Mammals

Sasol Mammals for Beginners

SASOL Mammals for Beginners

Cost: There are two versions. The limited list is free, but to see a wider range of animals you need to pay about 5 USD.

User friendliness: You can search for animals using their common name. It has an intuitive and easy to read screen.

Description: Other information that is given is animal size, identifying features, distribution, habits and habitats, conservation status, diet, how reproduction, gestation period, as well as similar looking species, where relevant. You can save a list of your own sightings. Sometimes there are short video clips of the animal you are looking up.

Region covered: Southern Africa

How to get the app: Download from the Playstore or Appstore. It is 137MB.

Region covered: Southern Africa

Wildlife Southern Africa

Wildlife-of-Southern-Africa

Cost: About 10 USD

User friendliness: Organised with a sensible separation of species into invertebrates, spiders, insects, fish, frogs, reptiles, birds, mammals, grasses etc.

Description: This app supports exploration and identification of about 1520 species of flora and fauna in the region – the most common species. It provides some sounds or calls of the animals in their natural habitats and gives distribution maps.

Region covered: Southern Africa

How to get the app: Download from the Playstore or Appstore. It is 405MB

Spoor/Tracks

iTrack Southern Africa

iTrack

Cost: Full paid version about 14 USD (also comes in a LITE – free – version There are small sketches/outlines of tracks for almost all animals in the free version.)

User friendliness: You can search for species using their common name. The track of the animal is shown on the left with the animal’s name on the right.

Description: There are photographs of the tracks as well. Some photographs and skulls of animals are included. You can save a list of tracks you have found. The conservation status of the animals is provided.

How to get the app: Download from Playstore or Appstore. The LITE version is 45MB, and the full version is 220MB (covers other regions).

Region covered: Generally focused on North American animals but some photos and tracks of Southern African animals are present.

Vegetation

Key to Trees of Southern Africa (M. Coates-Palgrave)

Trees of Southern Africa

Cost: About 27 USD

User friendliness: Trees are listed by scientific name and are easy to identify when the photograph is listed.

Description: This is an electronic version of the book by Meg Coates-Palgrave. It includes a photo, a description, the scientific classification, other names for trees and a distribution map

How to get the app: Download from the Playstore or Appstore

Region covered: Southern Africa. You can select an area or region within Southern Africa to be more specific.

eTrees of Southern Africa

eTrees of Southern Africa

Cost: about 20 USD, comes in a LITE version which is free and about 4MB

User friendliness: You can search for trees and plants using their common name

Description: Provides a photo, scientific and common names, and a description of appearance and habitat as well as ecological information and some information if they are known to have cultural or medicinal uses.

Region covered: Southern Africa

How to get the app: Download from the play store or Appstore. It is about 5MB.

Plantsnap

PlantSnap

Cost: Free

User friendliness: Uses image recognition when you take a photograph of a plant to help identify the plant from a database. This will work if the plant is reasonably common and registered,  but may be problematic for uncommon species.

Description: You can create your own list of plants you have spotted, or you can search a database of 585 000 plants around the world if you know the name of the plant.

Region covered: Global but you can use the map function to explore sightings uploaded by users near you.

How to get the app: Download from Playstore or Appstore. It is about 39MB


Websites

Cornell Institute of Ornithology
https://www.treehugger.com/apps-that-will-turn-you-into-a-wilderness-expert-4864044

iSpot
https://www.ispotnature.org/communities/southern-africa#navigation

Paddy Pacey

Zimbabwean field guide and trainer of aspiring guides

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