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The Smart (phone) Way to Report Invasive Species

On a rainy Tuesday in May of 2012, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) held an invasive species Bio-Blitz workshop to introduce the release of their new smartphone application for iMapInvasives. The event started began at the Town of Saugerties Library for an orientation and brief training before carpooling to the Esopus Creek Conservancy's Esopus Bend Preserve. From there, the volunteers walked the woodland trails and mapped invasive species with their Androids, iPhones and even tablets. After recording their data with photos, the group returned to the library where they were able to view their real-time contributions to the invasive species database.

Invasive species are non-native organisms that thrive outside of their original environment. They can cause significant harm to the environment, economy, and human health. Invasive species such as northern snakehead fish, Hydrilla, and Asian clam all threaten New York's aquatic resources. The Asian longhorned beetle threatens our hardwoods, especially maple trees which in turn harms the maple industry. The emerald ash borer is killing ash trees in several counties across New York State while giant hogweed, an invasive plant, poses a health hazard to humans. Some of these invasive species have also taken over habitats that are critical to the survival of some of New York's endangered species.

Early detection of invasive species is the key to successful control, and concerned citizens are often the first to spot a new invader. Reports from the public and conservation professionals alike can be submitted to iMapInvasives, an online database and mapping system. This program was created in response to one of the major challenges that states face in their attempts to manage invasive species: the lack of an effective mechanism for sharing and aggregating data between multiple partners and organizations. Data was often split into many different systems, or there was no efficient data at all. But now with the collaborative partnership created through iMapInvasives, land managers have a database system that, through the comprehensive exchange of invasive species data using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and web based technologies, allows them to see location data on invasive species from multiple sources. The invasive species data entered by citizens provides New York's natural resource preserve managers, regional planners, and other land and water managers with essential information. This information helps these managers prioritize control projects for invasive species and other work aimed at preventing the spread of invasive species.

Now with the new smart phone application, citizens are able to enter invasive species data they find directly to iMapInvasives in real-time, effectively providing early detection as quickly as possible. This new smartphone technology also makes collecting invasive species data easier for the general public, which ensures the sightings will get reported. At the same time, the iMapInvasive application helps raise awareness of this issue to the public.

So how effective was the Bio-Blitz Workshop for the release of the iMapInvasives smartphone a pplication? With the help of 21 attendees, the group managed to enter a whopping 38 new observations into iMapInvasives data system in just one hour (and in the rain). This event made a substantial contribution to the distribution maps for New York and helped train 21 new citizen scientists to enter data and spread the word about this new and innovative application.

Written by Nicole Smith, student at Florida State University
Edited by Jennifer Dean, NYNHP