Over the next four days, citizen-scientists from around the world will be taking part in a global challenge to catalogue the ecology of their cities.
For the fourth year in a row, Calgarians are being invited to participate in that global collection by taking their observation skills to the hyper-local level.
Come rain or shine, participants will be able to upload their observations to the iNaturalist app or inaturalist.org, helping to catalogue the incredible diversity of plants, animals, insects, fungi and even lichen that lives in and around Calgary. The challenge takes place from Friday April 29, through Monday, May 2.
“Cities are their own form of ecosystem, but they’re very misunderstood in terms of the ecology and the biodiversity that exists within them,” said Matt Wallace, a freelance urban ecologist and organizer for the Calgary City Nature Challenge.
“By collecting these types of observations, we can begin to study, understand and educate our communities based on what lives around us,” he said.
Up for grabs are bragging rights for being the most-involved city worldwide in terms of numbers of observations collected, the greatest biodiversity observed, and the largest number of participants overall.
In 2021 Calgary finished third in Canada for participation, behind Toronto and Ottawa-Gatineau. More than 660 different species through nearly 6,700 observations were recorded. This year, the Calgary City Nature Challenge is hoping to surpass 10,000 observations.
Wallace said that since 2019 Calgary has been recognized as one of the top-performing Canadian cities in the competition, despite the disadvantage of our early-springtime conditions.
Getting involved is a click or three away
Participating in the challenge is as easy as downloading the iNaturalist app. Users can create an account directly in the smartphone application, or through the iNaturalist website.
Then, clicking on the projects tab and typing “Calgary 2022” into the search bar will bring up the City Nature Challenge 2022: Calgary Metropolitain Region project. And clicking on that icon and entering into the project page, users can then join the challenge by pressing the join button.
Observations can be entered beginning at midnight on Thursday.
Wallace said more people are becoming more aware of the ability to record and report observations of wildlife.
“We have had these kinds of things in place for a while, like the 311 Wildlife reporting systems, and camera trap programs like Calgary capture going on in the city, but as more people are aware of these apps there is continuous improvement and documentation about what’s going on,” he said.
And although the challenge only takes place over a four-day period, Calgarians can continue to add their observations year-round to assist in tracking things like the migration patterns of birds. Since 2019, Calgarians have posted nearly 100,000 observations.
Citizen science and stewardship
Wallace said that he hopes that the challenge will help to engage communities, but also highlight some of the local work done by ecological stewardship and conservation groups.
He said that the advent of online tools gives citizens opportunities to become more aware of the environment around them. It gives them the “tools to not only understand what’s living around us and how we can better manage these spaces, but how people are engaging with it.”
The data collection, which is open source, is available for use by land managers and conservation groups, in addition to scientists and researchers.
“The most important thing I think to recognize here is that we just don’t have much information about what lives in cities,” he said.
“They’re very dynamic environments, they’re always changing. This gives us a time, a place, and an identifier of what it is that’s living around us.”
And this can be as local as someone’s backyard. Whether that is helping to provide information about sightings of bobcats, moose, or coyotes, to just keeping track of more local plant species.
“Because a lot of people are like ‘oh, yeah, I want to plant the pollinator garden or introduce new species into my yard.’ It’s a good way to keep track of even your own property, see what’s going on there, and share it with a larger community,” said Wallace.
For more information on this year’s Calgary challenge visit citynatureyyc.ca, or citynaturechallenge.org for the global challenge. And for more information on other conservation events, such as the Christmas Bird Count, see Wallace’s Instagram at www.instagram.com/citizenblitz.