KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is celebrating the success of a community science project led by nonprofit partner Discover Life in America (DLiA) called Smokies Most Wanted.
The initiative encourages visitors to record life they find in the park through the iNaturalist nature app. DLiA and the park use these data points to map species’ ranges, track exotic species, and even 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 Dr. Will Kuhn, DLiA’s director of science and research.
In August, the project reached a milestone, surpassing 100,000 records of insects, plants, fungi, and other Smokies life submitted through the app. Among them are 92 new species not previously seen in the park.
In addition, users have contributed needed location data for key species on the Smokies Most Wanted target list, which includes under-documented plants, insects, birds, and other life. Seven of these species have been sufficiently documented to remove 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. DLiA will replace them 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. “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!”
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DLiA invites the public to visit the Sugarlands Visitor Center front plaza from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 22 and again on Thursday, October 20 for demonstrations on using iNaturalist, guided nature walks, tours of the pollinator gardens in front of the visitor center, and more.
In honor of National Public Lands Day, the public is also invited to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on Saturday, September 24 for iNaturalist demonstrations from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.