Nature Apps – A Closer Look

Now that we have examined some pros and cons of smartphone apps for conservation, let’s briefly look at some of the more prominent ones based on the categories I defined in my Introduction post.  As I mentioned before, many of the apps may fall into the same category, but for the purposes of this post, I will only pick one category for each app.

  1. Data Collection/Logging Apps
    • Google My Maps – this app links to your Google Account and allows you to create personalized maps to display whatever kind of data you wish. While
      Screenshot of a mapping project in MyMaps

      not specific to conservation, this app and desktop site can be an incredibly powerful tool. Use it to map out study or observation sites, habitats, or track sightings of plants or animals. For example, here is a link to a participatory mapping project I completed for a previous class. I marked coyote and fox sightings and important areas of Naperville, Illinois, as chosen by myself, members of my community, and the Naperville Animal Control. (Free)

    • INaturalist – This app also falls into the citizen science category, I will describe it in this one. INaturalist allows you to upload photos from your smartphone or camera to share with other users and scientists. Similar to a social media app, you can discuss your pictures with other users and help users identify species. You can also participate in and create your own projects that are specific to a certain area, species, or kingdom. (Free)

      Screenshot of an INaturalist Project
  1. Citizen Science Apps
    • Zooniverse – According to their website, this is the largest and most popular citizen science platform in the world, with hundreds of thousands of users.

      Screenshot of a Zooniverse Project on whales and dolphins

      Choose from projects (currently 81) in a number of categories, including Biology, Nature, and Climate.  A lot of the projects involve examining photos for specific plants or animals, but I also found a project that had users assist with records at the Manchester Museum in the United Kingdom. The museum has photos of their specimens along with typed or handwritten cards containing specific data about each. Users are to type out the information on the cards, presumably as a method of digitizing their collection. I found this project fascinating, and a fun distraction from homework. (Free)

    • Instant Wild – Scientists seem to have noScreenshot of an Instant Wild Projectshortage of photos and videos to sort through, and this app is another great example. An added bonus is that the site updates from projects in real time. Choose from projects at various areas around the world and help scientists identify which species(s) are present. There are message boards on each photo where you can converse with other users. This app also provides a “Top Spotters” board where you can compete with others to identify the most
      species. The current number on has over 84,000 “idents” (identifications in the app or website). (Free)

      Screenshot of an Instant Wild Project


  2. Nature Reference Apps
    • Sibley Birds – I may be a bit biased because my go-to bird book is a Sibley, but I
      Screenshot of the Sibley Birds description of a wood duck.

      really enjoy this app. Much easier to carry around when you want to pack light, and it includes sound bytes of all the birds in the book.  Not only does it provide all of the information you would find in the physical copy, but the app also allows you create a log of observed species within the app. The highlight feature for me (other than the included songs and calls) is that you can set the app to only display the birds found in your state. For example, on a recent trip to Washington, I set the app to only show the species found there. A wonderful feature when you are in an area you are unfamiliar with. The downside to this app is that it costs money, but it is packed with features that made it totally worth it for me. ($19.99)

    • Pl@ntNet – This is another app that could fall into multiple categories. It has a citizen science aspect, but I am putting it into this category due to the visual recognition software that allows the app to assist with plant identification. It also provides a reference database using the photos already uploaded. I am not great with plants, so I plan on getting to know this app very well this spring. (Free)

      Screenshot of Pl@ntNet



  3. Games
    • Condor Country – This game, developed by the Santa Barbara Zoo and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has players breed, raise, tag and release wild condors (virtually, of course) and monitor their flock. Earn money to release more condors, and level up to unlock more areas. This is a very well designed mobile game with nice artwork and tutorial mode. I have not played long enough to have an idea whether it will become tedious at any point, but it has a 4.5 star review in the Google Play store. I think this an excellent example of a well developed conservation game. (Free with in-app purchases)

      Screenshot within the Condor Country game – captivity pens
    • Tree Planet – Unfortunately, not all of the Tree Planet games are available in the US yet, but I wanted to include it because I think it is an amazing idea. Tree Story is available in the App Store for iOS users but is not available on Android (bummer for me). The main purpose of the the games is to raise trees through various tasks and games. The advertisements and in-app purchases provide funds to plant trees in forested areas monitored by Tree Planet’s partners. Tree Planet also monitors the forestation process and reports back to its users via its blog and social media accounts. (Free with in-app purchases)

      Photo taken from the Tree Planet website (I do not have access to iOS to take my own screenshot).

Side note: I cannot, after hours of trying, get the bullet points to cooperate on the published post, and I have not learned enough html to correct it on the backend. Just deal with it for now 🙂

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