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Every year in April, Earth Day is celebrated around the world to promote and support environmental awareness and protections. As a part of this celebration, UNCG will host a Campus Nature Challenge for students and employees to participate in a citizen science project to increase biodiversity awareness by photographing, recording audio, and cataloging the plants, animals (including insects), and fungi on campus using the iNaturalist app.

From April 5 – 11, participants will be asked to use the iNaturalist app to identify as many species across campus as they can. Supported by a grant from the UNCG Green Fund, student participants will be eligible to win prizes. A bicycle, tent, hammock, and gift cards will be awarded for the most observations identified, the greatest number of species identified, and best photos. While only students are eligible to win prizes, UNCG employees are still encouraged to participate in the project.

The competition is being championed by Dr. Shaleen Miller, adjunct professor in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Sustainability. “Every semester, I have my students use iNaturalist for a week, and many respond that it is their favorite class activity or that they continue using it even when the semester is over,” Miller said. “At UNCG, it is fantastic that we have Peabody Park right on campus. I wanted to expand this activity and provide incentives for the rest of campus to discover the biodiversity that exists under their feet and over their heads.”

The iNaturalist app is a popular citizen science tool for cataloging biodiversity. It is available for free on both Android and Apple and has a compatible website that allows uploads by those who cannot download the app. It allows users to take photos or record audio of diverse plant and wildlife, which are uploaded into the app with the location geotagged. The application makes suggestions for identification based on the photos. Once the person submitting the picture attempts to identify the photo, the photos are shared to the iNaturalist community.

All users are asked to help make confirmations or alternative suggestions. The owner of the picture may then accept or reject the suggestions. However, after several confirmations, the photo/species is cataloged as “Research-grade.” In this way, it keeps a check on the data, but it also provides an additional way for the person who takes the photo to learn about the species they are seeing.

More information and the official rules of the competition can be found on the UNCG Sustainability website. Questions should be sent to Dr. Miller at samille6@uncg.edu.  Follow @SustainableUNCG on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for competition updates.

 
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