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Our goals are to collect data on plants, insects, and other species
in terrestrial communities and teach how to collect, analyze and present data.


Understanding the potential impacts of climate change, pollution, invasive species, and other large-scale factors on biological systems is a formidable task. It is not feasible to conduct randomized, replicated experiments at regional and continental scales. Instead we can use natural field experiments to study such phenomena (Hargrove and Pickering 1992). We are building a continental network of naturalists to collect large quantities of data for natural experiments.

Discover Life has developed protocols that enable all our participants to collect high quality data using digital photography, global positioning devices, cell phones, and web tools. For species identification, we use customized local online guides, automated flagging of unusual events, and oversight by taxonomists. We provide technical support, photographic albums to store images and edit associated information, mapping and analysis tools, and sharing of data via the web.


Choose a trail or patch that goes through a diversity of habitats and has abundant native species.


  • Digital camera - a point-and-shoot can be fine, but you want one with an optical zoom of 10x or more
    - see some suggestions here.
  • GPS if possible. If not, get your latitude and longitude from a map.
  • Cell phone
  • Computer with internet access


  1. General -- 5-minute how-to video on using photographs to document nature.

  2. Uploading photographs -- setting up and editing your album and life list of species.

  3. Photowalk
    Take your digital camera, GPS, cell phone, and ruler to your chosen trail. At the trail head, take photographs of the following:
    • Cell phone (this tells us the exact date and time)
    • GPS (this tells us the exact location)
    • The habitat, facing North, East, South and West.
    • The sky, showing the weather
    • The people you are with
    Then for two hours or more, take photographs of natural history, especially the following:
    • Plants
      Primarily wildflowers and other flowers in bloom; trees in various stages of leafing out
      Take a series of photographs:
      • Whole plant
      • Stem, showing leaf arrangement (opposite/ alternate/ whorled)
      • For woody plants, include a photograph of bark
      • Flower, including close up of reproductive parts inside, first without, then with, metric ruler
      • Fruit first without, then with, metric ruler
      • Whole leaf, upper side first without, then with, metric ruler
      • Leaf underside close up at petiole
      • Any distinguishing features such as spines, warty bark, red pigments in new leaves, etc.
      Cercis canadensis, Eastern Redbud, leaf base under
      Cercis canadensis L.
      Eastern Redbud, leaf underside at petiole
    • Pollinators and other insects on plants -- as described in video above.
    • Lichens
      • Without ruler - overall structure, whole thallus (body)
      • With ruler - whole thallus at widest dimension
      • Close up of any structures such as apothecia or cilia
      • Close up of underside if applicable
    • Fleshy fungi
      • Whole mushroom without ruler
      • Whole mushroom with ruler showing height then showing width
      • If on stipe (stalk), dig carefully to show base of stipe and any veil remnants
      • Underside, showing arrangement gills or pores
      • If stalk present, break stalk to show texture, latex, hollow vs solid, etc.
    • Salamanders, frogs, snakes, lizards, other herps
    • Any other natural history that interests you

    Contact information

    Please join us and have fun too studying plants, insects, and other creatures of forest and field.

Updated: 26 October, 2011
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