21st Century technology can boost Africa’s contribution to global biodiversity data

Article by Wiida Fourie-Basson: “In spring in the Southern hemisphere, the natural world is on full throttle: “Flowers are blooming, insects are emerging, birds are singing, and reptiles are coming out of their winter hibernation,” wrote Pete Crowcroft, known as @possumpete on the citizen science app, iNaturalist.

Yet, despite this annual bursting forth of life, a 2023 preprint puts the continent’s contribution to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility at a dismal 2.69%, with huge disparities between African countries…

Since its formation in 2008 as part of a graduate project at the University of California, the iNaturalist platform has evolved into one of the world’s most popular biodiversity observation platforms. Anyone, anywhere in the world, with a smartphone can download the app and start posting images and descriptions of their observations, and a large community of identifiers helps to confirm the species’ observation and label it as “research grade”.

Rebelo says iNaturalist is now used on a massive scale: “During the 2023 City Nature Challenge almost 67,000 people made nearly two million observations over four days – that is, five observations each second. Another 22,000 specialists identified 60 thousand species of animals, plants, and fungi. Few citizen science platforms are as powerful and efficient.”..

Andra Waagmeester, data scientist at Micelio in Belgium and a Wikimentor, believes the dearth of biodiversity data from Africa can be solved by combining the iNaturalist and Wikipedia communities: “They are independent communities, but there is substantial overlap between them. By overlaying the two data sets and leveraging the semantic web, we have the means to deal with the challenge.”

The need for biodiversity-related knowledge from Africa was first acknowledged by the Wiki-community during the 2018 Wikimania conference in Cape Town. The Wiki Biodiversity Project has since grown into an active global community that leverages crowd-sourced knowledge from platforms like iNaturalist…(More)”.

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