SMOKY MOUNTAINS, Tenn. (WATE) — Visitors taking part in a new program identified 92 species that had never been seen before inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The community science project is led by the park’s nonprofit partner Discover Life in America (DLiA). It encourages visitors to record animals, plants and other life they find in the park through the iNaturalist nature app. The data points are then used by DLiA and the park to map species’ ranges, track species, and discover new kinds of life in the park.
“iNaturalist usage in the Smokies has skyrocketed from just four users in 2011, to 3,800 in 2020, to now more than 7,100 users,” said Will Kuhn, DLiA’s director of science and research.
In August, the National Park Service said the project surpassed 100,000 records of insects, plants, fungi, and other Smokies life submitted through the app. In addition, every month from January 2022 to August 2022 has broken monthly records for iNaturalist observation in the park. In total, 4,855 species were documented in the park through the app.
Among the records, 92 new species never recorded in the park before were discovered. Users also provided location data needs for species on the Smokies Most Wanted target list, which includes under-documented plants, insects, birds, and other life.
Seven species on the list have been documented enough to be removed from the list: great blue lobelia, red-spotted purple butterfly, smooth rock tripe lichen, chicken of the woods mushroom, poke milkweed, orange-patched smoky moth, and white turtlehead. These species will be replaced with other under-documented Smokies residents.
“GSMNP currently ranks #5 in iNaturalist observations, users, and species recorded across the National Park Service system,” said Kuhn. “But the Smokies is probably number one in terms of actual documented species, thanks to the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory. We need visitors’ help making our diversity in iNaturalist to match our true diversity. Let’s get to number one and learn more about our park life!”
For those who want to learn more about the iNaturalist app. DLiA is holding two demonstrations at the Sugarlands Visitor Center front plaza. The first will be on Thursday, September 22 from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. The next will be on Thursday, October 20 also from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. In honor of National Public Lands Day, there will also be a demonstration on September 24 from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. For more information, visit dlia.org/events.