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City Nature Challenge tallies over 815,000 Wildlife Observations

Over 41,000 community scientists from 244 cities around the world —many while sheltered in place— document more than 1,300 rare, endangered, or threatened species in four-day community science effort

Species observed include the critically imperiled amethyst hairstreak butterfly in Florida and critically endangered harlequin frog in Panama

Amethyst hairstreak
© cattleya72, (CC-BY-NC)

Pirri harlequin frog 
© capitancubilla25, (CC-BY-NC)

Los Angeles, CA (May 4, 2020) — The City Nature Challenge (CNC) results are in! Over 41,000 people across six continents documented over 815,000 wildlife observations for the 5th annual community science initiative. From a sighting of a critically endangered butterfly from the U.S., to documenting an uptick in urban wildlife activity due to shelter-in-place orders, the observations gathered help scientists create a valuable snapshot in time of urban biodiversity.

The global event called on current and aspiring community scientists, nature and science fans, and people of all ages and backgrounds to observe and submit pictures of wild plants, animals, and fungi from April 24 to April 27. In light of COVID-19, this year’s Challenge was not a competition. Instead, participants were encouraged to embrace the collaborative aspect of sharing observations online with a digital community and celebrate the healing power of nature safely from home.

People of all ages and science backgrounds submitted pictures of wild plants and animals using the free mobile app iNaturalist and other recording platforms. From sightings of critically endangered species to documenting urban wildlife, the competition underscored the power of community science to track real-time changes in our planet’s biodiversity.

After co-founding and organizing the first-ever City Nature Challenge in 2016 as a competition between the Los Angeles and San Francisco metro areas, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) and the California Academy of Sciences expanded the initiative to over 245 cities across 40 countries. This year’s Challenge tallied over 815,000 observations, including over 1,300 rare, endangered, or threatened species; engaged over 41,000 observers (more than ever before); and recorded over 32,600 species worldwide. 

"It has been amazing to see tens of thousands of people from around the globe come together to celebrate nature during the pandemic, says Lila Higgins, co-founder of the City Nature Challenge and Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) Senior Community Science Manager. “Not only were people able to document urban wildlife for science, they were also able to connect to the healing power of nature in their backyards and neighborhoods, and we all need healing right now.”

The Challenge would not be possible without the hundreds of partner organizations around the world—which, due to COVID-19—adapted to the situation and empowered their respective communities to document local biodiversity to the best of their ability within new public safety parameters.

“We worked with over 40 local partners this year” says Amy Jaecker-Jones, NHMLAC Community Science Coordinator. “Although some organizations had to shut their doors or furlough staff in the last two months and couldn’t support the City Nature Challenge as much as they’d hoped, early participation shows a strong commitment on the part of both non-profit organizations and governmental offices to work for the benefit of our environment and protect biodiversity in Los Angeles. It is because of these organizations that so many people discovered the wonder of nature right in their own backyards.”

Los Angeles County by the numbers

  • 1,569 observers 
  • Contributors averaged 12 observations
  • 760 people made identifications in iNaturalist 
  • 2,494 species documented 
  • 19,135 observations submitted to iNaturalist 
  • Most observed species: western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)

View all L.A County iNaturalist results here.

Los Angeles County highlights

  • P-22 mountain lion. P-22, L.A.’s most-famous mountain lion, showed up on a Griffith Park camera trap the last day of the challenge. The camera trap was set up by NHM-staffer Miguel Ordeñana before “Safer at Home” orders and transmits photos to his cell phone. 
  • Mating alligator lizards. Across Southern California 13 observations of alligator lizards mating were submitted. The entirety of the published research on the mating behavior of this species consists of three records, demonstrating the incredible potential for crowdsourcing to revolutionize animal behavior research.
  • Crotch’s bumble bee. Four observations of this threatened bumble bee were made in L.A. County during the challenge. Last December, this bumble bee was petitioned to be listed as an endangered species in California. 
  • Nesting great horned owl. Nesting behavior is a rare treat to observe, and three CNC participants managed to snap a photo of a Great Horned Owl mother with her nestlings.

World by the numbers

  • Over 41,000 observers
  • More than 815,000 observations submitted to iNaturalist
  • Contributors averaged 19 observations each
  • Over 32,600 species documented, including over 1,300 rare, endangered, or threatened species
  • Most observed species: Common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

World highlights
Highlights from around the U.S. and the world include a gray seal that traveled several miles from the Bristol Channel up the river into the heart of the city of Bristol in the U.K; a spotted harlequin snake midway through a meal in South Africa; an amethyst hairstreak butterfly spotted in Florida—a critically imperiled species that is nearly extinct in the United States; a critically endangered harlequin frog in Panama; the first record (since 1977) of a white-spotted slimy salamander in Arlington County, Virginia (made by a high school student); Honduras’s first observation of a rare orchid; a parasitic fungus erupting from a wasp in Tennessee; a stunning pitviper from the Philippines; and a backyard bobcat in Canada with a jackrabbit snack. 

The current landscape of urban biodiversity is poorly understood. As global human populations grow increasingly concentrated in cities, documenting urban biodiversity—and our impact on it—is a crucial part of understanding our shared future. Large pools of data, including those built by iNaturalist and natural history museums, aid in scientific research and help land managers make informed conservation decisions for humans to sustainably coexist with regional plant and animal life.

In 2019, the Challenge tallied over 950,000 observations, including over 1,100 rare, endangered, or threatened species; engaged over 35,000 observers; and recorded close to 32,000 species worldwide

Urban nature initiatives at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM)
NHM, in the last several years, has shifted its attention to include not just natural and cultural history, but living nature—and specifically, the nature of L.A. With the 2013 addition of the outdoor Nature Gardens and their companion indoor exhibit, the Nature Lab, the museum has onsite venues that engage Angelenos in an investigation of the nature around them. Additionally, the museum’s Urban Nature Research Center (UNRC) and Community Science Department help spotlight ways to boost and sustain Los Angeles’ biodiversity. UNRC and Community Science Department initiatives include the City Nature Challenge, co-founded with the California Academy of Science; SuperProject, the world's largest urban biodiversity survey; RASCals (Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California); SLIME (Snails and Slugs Livings in Metropolitan Environments); BioSCAN (Biodiversity Science: City and Nature); Southern California Squirrel Survey; L.A. Spider Survey; and more. Visit NHMLAC.ORG/nature for more information.

About NHMLAC
The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) include the Natural History Museum, La Brea Tar Pits, and the William S. Hart Museum. They operate under the collective vision to inspire wonder, discovery, and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds. The museums hold one of the world’s most extensive and valuable collections of natural and cultural history—more than 35 million objects. Using these collections for groundbreaking scientific and historic research, the museums also incorporate them into on- and offsite nature and culture exploration in L.A. neighborhoods, and a slate of community science programs—creating indoor-outdoor visitor experience that explore the past, present, and future. Visit nhmlac.org and nhmlac.org/connects to explore collections, science and community engagement experience digitally.

Additional partner city observations and hi-res photos available upon request.

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MEDIA CONTACT

Sally Marquez
smarquez@nhm.org
(213) 763-3580