Here’s Your Chance to Contribute to the World’s Largest Urban Biodiversity Study

By using a free app called iNaturalist, you can help the Natural History Museum conduct important scientific research—and also beat San Francisco in a nature challenge

Yesterday the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County announced the launch of the Urban Natural Research Center, a new investigative effort designed to better study L.A.’s biodiversity. As part of the new center, NHM scientists will oversee an enormous undertaking called the SuperProject, which includes a variety of surveys cataloguing different species around Los Angeles.

“There’s often this misconception that Los Angeles is a concrete jungle, when it actually sits inside one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world,” said NHM president and director Lori Bettison-Varga at a press conference announcing the center on Thursday. “This threatened ecosystem is considered one of the earth’s 35 biodiversity hot spots and it is uniquely one of the planet’s most urbanized.”

To get a clearer sense of the sorts of creatures that exist in L.A., the museum’s scientists are looking to locals for help—especially since many critters happen to live on private property. The iNaturalist app allows anyone to help by snapping a pic of that slug, spider, or other organism in your backyard. Once you share your findings, experts and other users can help with species identification. (And if you don’t have the app, you can also email your observations to the Museum, or share them on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.)

The data from these projects are already helping researchers map organisms’ distribution around L.A., and, in some cases, identify entirely new species.

Starting on April 16, the NHM and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco are going head-to-head as part of a City Nature Challenge to see which city’s residents can share more photos of wildlife by using the app. The winner will be announced online on Earth Day on April 22.

Check out Mayor Eric Garcetti’s video about the City Nature Challenge and get to work!