The City Nature Challenge is a friendly competition between cities around the world that challenges people to get outside, explore nature, and learn about biodiversity. The event focuses on observations of wild plants, animals, fungi, seaweed, bacteria, lichen, etc., that you can find around your city.
The 2022 challenge will take place in two parts. From April 29 to May 2, participants can take pictures of plants and animals to be used for species identification. This is followed by the second period from May 3 to May 8 which is when these observations can be uploaded onto iNaturalist (a social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists) and work can be done on identification. The final results of the event will be announced on May 9.
Observations should start on April 29 at 12:00 AM local time and continue up until May 2, at 11:59 PM local time. Observations should not be made outside of this period for the purpose of this event. Any observations made within the boundary of the project during the dates mentioned above will automatically get pulled into the project on iNaturalist so there is no need to add observations to the project. However, joining the event on iNaturalist will provide you with notifications of event news.
To participate in the City Nature Challenge, start by creating an iNaturalist account. Visit iNaturalist.org, and/or download the app from the AppStore or Google Play. Then log in or sign up to begin sharing your observations. This platform will also provide feedback from actual scientists, experts, and other naturalists on the organisms you post.
The challenge originally started as a good-natured competition between the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the California Academy of Sciences (located in San Francisco). It was held for the first time in 2016 to celebrate the first-ever Citizen Science Day. The inaugural event, therefore, focused on urban biodiversity in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The event in many ways was a huge success and generated buzz, causing many other cities to express interest in participating as well. It is now a worldwide celebration of biodiversity with 244 cities partaking in the event in 2020.
The 2020 City Nature Challenge saw a slight change in the way the event was run. The global COVID ispandemic meant new logistical considerations such as public health guidelines and government restrictions. The challenge was not canceled but was however changed from a competition to a collaboration. This was done as a way to encourage and celebrate everyone’s contribution to the event without placing unnecessary pressure on participants that could potentially put their health and safety at risk. Both the 2020 and 2021 City Nature Challenge events brought impressive numbers. In 2020, more than 41,000 people participated, making a total of 815,000 observations, of over 32,000 species. The 2021 year saw an increase to 52,777 participants, who made 1,270,767 observations of over 45,300 species.
The City Nature Challenge provides a list of participating cities/regions for the challenge every year and Orange County has been added as a participant. This list also provides a link to each region’s corresponding iNaturalist page where residents can add their observations. If someone’s city or region is not listed as a participant, there is still a chance to participate through the global project from anywhere else in the world.
Biodiversity encompasses the immense variety of biotic (living) creatures present on Earth and the abiotic (non-living) habitats that these organisms are found in. Together, the living and non-living, create extraordinarily complex ecosystems teaming with a diverse array of species that interact with each other and their environment in unique ways.
So why is it important to learn about and protect the biodiversity of Earth?
Biodiversity is essential for life on Earth. Biodiversity helps ensure that the Earth can continue to supply ecosystem services around the world. Ecosystem services can be described as the benefits that society acquires from the environment. They can be divided into four main categories; provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural. The provisioning ecosystem services are those that provide food, raw materials, medicinal resources, and freshwater. All of the individual services in the provisioning category are usually extractive. The regulating services moderate the natural environment and ensure that ecosystems function properly helping to keep them clean, sustainable, functional, and resilient to change. This group includes aspects such as air quality regulation, climate regulation, water regulation, erosion regulation, water purification and waste treatment, disease and pest control, pollination, and moderation of extreme events. The supporting services help to ensure the continuation of life on Earth through the maintenance of some of the most basic elements of ecological systems. Without functions such as nutrient cycling, photosynthesis, and soil formation, none of the other ecosystem services would be possible and life on Earth would cease to exist. The cultural ecosystem services are the non-material values nature provides that enrich society’s social, cultural, and intellectual development. Examples of this type of ecosystem function include mental and physical health, recreation and ecotourism, aesthetic value, as well as spiritual and religious values. These functions are critically important for life on Earth and are made possible due to the biodiversity found on Earth.
By learning more about biodiversity and its importance, greater awareness of the issues ecosystems are currently facing can be raised. Learning about the natural environment that you live with and benefit from daily will help create responsible environmental stewards that help protect the environment through their sustainable actions.
Participating in the City Nature Challenge and sharing it with friends and family is a great way to rally people together to protect the environment and the biodiversity found within it. Further steps can be taken by volunteering with local conservation organizations that work to preserve native habitats. OC Habitats regularly offers many opportunities to get involved with habitat conservation which you can sign up for through Eventbrite.