A group of University of Victoria researchers has released an app, called Central Coast Biodiversity, that acts as a “digital field guide” to help users identify more than 700 species in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, along B.C.’s central coast.
Both expert researchers and nature enthusiasts can use the app, developed by conservation biologist Brian Starzomski, with graduate student Chanda Brietzke and alumna Kelly Fretwell, to develop a greater understanding of the rainforest’s biodiversity while taking a virtual tour featuring the region’s sea life, wolves, eagles and more.
“To me one of the great things about the app/website is that it covers a wide range of taxa—vascular and non-vascular plants, mammals, birds, seaweeds, fish, sea stars, crabs, etc.—so instead of carrying around multiple field guides all you need is your phone or tablet,” said Fretwell to UVic’s community news source The Ring.
After five years teaching a field biology course at the Hakai Institute on Calvert Island, which requires each student to identify and write descriptions for 50 species, Starzomski had amassed a large quantity of species photos and descriptions.
So a proposal for funding to develop the app and hire Fretwell to work on the website was made through the Hakai Institute, with other funding supplied by the McTaggart Cowan Professor of Biodiversity Conservation and Ecological Restoration funds, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), and the BC Knowledge Development Fund.
“We’ve really tried to craft it so that can be equally interesting and useful to a range of ages and backgrounds: kids, adults, students, researchers, eco-tourists, citizen scientists, and everyone in between,” says Fretwell, adding, “We’ve tried to keep the descriptions from being too technical, adding in definitions and explanations when necessary, and we’ve tried to spice each page up with something cool or unique about that species.”
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The app’s current inventory has 210 plants, 80 birds, 120 seaweeds, 190 marine invertebrates and 20 mammals and reptiles.
Although the app catalogues species in a particular area of the central B.C. coast, many of the creatures identified range up and down the Pacific coast, as far south as California and as far north as Alaska, making it useful for the app’s users almost anywhere in that range.
Available for iOS and Android, the app and website were developed by the researchers with support from the Hakai Institute, a research institution that advances research at remote locations along B.C.’s coast.
“BC has the most species of any province in Canada, and coastal BC in particular is amazing; we all know about the wolves and whales but really there are so many other beautiful and under-appreciated creatures out there,” continues Starzomski.
While the app is best suited for observation in the field, its availability means that anyone in the world can look at photos and descriptions of one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth.