Thursday, May 26, 2011

Notes from Day 1 of the Global Amphibian Blitz

The first day of the Global Amphibian Blitz just drew to a close, and I think its fair to say we are off to a great start! The day ended with 154 amphibian species checking in from 18 countries around the globe. While this represents a mere 2% of the world's amphibians, for one day, that's not so bad!

The map below shows their locations. Three cluster of points are immediately obvious. These are, as expected, the East and West coasts of the United States and, perhaps more surprisingly, Central and Northern South America. For the third cluster, I'd like to give a large amount of credit and many thanks to Ted Kahn at the Neotropical Consevation Foundation who really helped get the word out to some very active and engaged networks of Latin American herpetologists.
A map of 295 geo-tagged amphibian observations at the end of day one of the Global Amphibian Blitz
While Europe, Africa, and Australia, and South East Asia were represented, its clear we need to get the word out to amphibian enthusiasts in those areas. The following bar graph shows a break down of the number of observations from each country of the 295 geo-tagged amphibian observations
The distribution of amphibian observations from 18 countries
There's still a lot of interesting stats to pull out of these data that will have to wait for a later post, but I'd like to finish by discussing another interesting topic that arose today over a lively discussion on the iNaturalist Google group about the pros and cons of sharing geo-tagged biodiversity data. The cons are that these data might aid collectors and others who would exploit biodiversity. The pros are the many opportunities to use these data to engage and educate the public and to enable science and conservation.

First, I wanted to make sure everyone realizes that we are currently obscuring all locations of amphibians listed on the IUCN RedList by 5km. That means that while you see you see the actual exact coordinates of your observation, everyone else sees a random point within 5 km. While there's some debate over whether 5km is large enough, iNaturalist will not make those exact locations available to anyone else unless. The exception being if you submit your observation to a project like the Global Amphibian Blitz. Each project is run by an admin and a usually a team of curators, and when you add an observation to a project you agree to share the exact locations of your observations of threatened species with them. In the case of the Global Amphibian Blitz, I am the admin and the project has a Scientific Advisory Board made up of members of the partner institutions. This board will review any requests by scientists or conservation groups to access the data and will make sure that those requesting the data reputable.

It was clear from the excellent feedback on the Google Group that many people would like the option to obscure observations of species regardless of their Red List. As a result we're adding two new features that hopefully will be deployed by the end of the week. The first is that users will be able to obscure or completely hide the public locations of any observation they add while still allowing scientists access to the true locations. The second will be that iNaturalist curators (not to be confused with project curators - let us know if you'd like more info on being either type of curator) will be able to add a 'Sensitive' status to any species they feel might be at risk - even if its not on the Red List - and obscure the locations of observations of this species. An example might be a newly discovered but rare amphibian that has yet to be assessed by the Red List Authority.

We really appreciate everyone's feedback and comments on how to properly design this aspect of the Blitz. We all want a tool that will allow us to share our amphibian observations for science and conservation but protect it from being exploited by collectors. We're very close to having that tool here and having this discussion is critical for ironing out the remaining kinks.

I'm looking forward to giving more updates on the progress of the Blitz. It really is amazing what a group of people working together can accomplish. I hope everyone will continue adding their observations, helping with IDs, and reaching out to amphibian enthusiasts they know. There's still 98% of the world's amphibians that haven't yet checked in! If we want to find every one, we've got lots more work to do!

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