A.I. and Collaborative Databases Grant Easy Access to a Wealth of Knowledge
Hunters, anglers, hikers, and horseback riders venture into untamed territories to experience the wealth and beauty of nature. Part of what makes nature so captivating and mysterious is the sheer variety of landscapes and life forms we encounter as we move through wild country.
Thanks to advances in mobile applications, the basic identification of plants and animals is more accessible than ever. We now have the ability to cross-reference plants and animals we see with a database of images, academic articles, and user-generated field notes.
What follows is a summary of some popular mobile apps for plant and animal identification, available on iOS and Android. These apps are meant for the casual naturalist and are by no means a replacement for true expertise, but they are a great way to learn more about the flora and fauna around us.
“Seek” by iNaturalist
This application is targeted at beginners and young users, with an easy-to-browse database of plants and animals based on the user’s current location. The app also features a “gamification” system that racks up user points based on how many plants and animals the user successfully identifies. User field notes can be submitted and, once approved, shared with other users who identify the same plants and animals.
This app is focused entirely on plant identification. It features a simple-to-use interface and includes a database of plants arranged by taxonomy, perfect for aspiring botanists. This app relies on plant “leafprints”, identifying plants by matching leaf vein patterns with your photo. Its database is massive, featuring more than 600,000 species of plants, trees, mushrooms, and cacti.
This is a premium plant identification app with extensive information on each species, and some app features are locked behind a paywall. Free users get 10 “snaps” per day. Plantsnap Pro is $19.99 for iPhone or Android and offers a full-featured experience, free of ads.
National Park Service App
This field guide is offered by the National Park Service and allows users to view plants and animals based on what park they plan to visit. For users who anticipate weak or spotty cell service, entire park databases can be downloaded before your outing, keeping all that vital information locally stored on your device.
Each park in the app features a detailed map that includes roads, trails, points of interest, and other valuable information you’ll need for your trip. Users can select their “favorite” national parks and receive regular news updates about those parks in their National Park Service App.