Use your smartphone to track alien invaders
If you own a smartphone, you can help slow down the spread of invasive plant species, like Himalayan Balsam, Japanese Knotweed and Giant Hogwood, say ecologists.
To the BatMobile, Robin!
Using the PlantTracker app, which is downloadable from Apple's iTunes store and the Android market, all you need to do is take a photo of any of 14 offending plants and send it to the Biological Records Centre (BRC).
And if you can't tell your balsam from your hogweed, the app has a handy built-in photographic guide, also featuring harmless plants that look uncannily like the invasive ones to help you tell invasive plants from inoffensive lookalikes.
Another app in development, called BatMobile, lets people identify bat calls using their smartphone.
PlantTracker has already attracted 7000 downloads and alerted ecologists to a massive 2500 sites where invasive plants have got a foothold. But today, scientists will unveil an updated version at the British Ecological Society's annual meeting that will let you tell scientists about the spread of even more invasive species. It'll be available in spring 2013.
'PlantTracker sightings have already allowed removal of isolated outbreaks of Himalayan Balsam and Giant Hogweed on a tributary of the Thames, and Floating Pennywort from the Midlands and Greater London areas. And because invasive plants are being removed earlier, the app is helping reduce the cost of treatment and the amount of herbicide required,' says ecologist Dave Kilbey of Nature Locator, the project which developed the app.
Nature Locator is also developing apps to record the UK's ladybirds, butterflies, and invasive marine and freshwater organisms.
Apps like PlantTracker and BatMobile are on the rise. Not only do they help control invasive species, saving the country money, but they let anyone get involved in science.
'Engaging the public with citizen science like this has multiple benefits: it cuts the cost of collecting data; increases awareness of and educates people about conservation issues; and empowers people to make a contribution at the same time as boosting both the amount and, more significantly, the quality of the data collected,' says Kilbey.
BRC is supported by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the Natural Environment Research Council's Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.
Posted on 18 December 2012
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