Monday, September 16, 2019

Iconic (wildlife) species of Cusco, Peru: improving recording with the use of iNaturalist and tourist workforce

iNaturalist is a citizen science project and online social network of naturalists aimed to record and share observations of biodiversity across the globe. iNaturalist enable users to record species in the field with a mobile application, and upload to the network. Great funcionalities of the website are the help to identify species with the aid of AI (artificial inteligence) and help from members, and building of projects and project guides with automatic incorporation of species and species' images within the project's boundaries. This network consists of more than one million enthusiasts and over 26 million observations, and data has been used to publish in standard scientific journals.

Despite its great funcionality, there is a huge opportunity for expand its use. Of the 62 species listed in the the project 'Iconic mammals and birds of Cusco' (see guide) built by Nature Andes using iNaturalist, only 14 have been observed so far (see project).

Cusco is known to receive thousands of turists annually, visiting ruins in Machu Picchu and trekking for days in many trails, such as the Salkantay, Choquericao, the Inca Trail, Ausangate, and lookout / camping sites such as Tres Cruces, in the highlands, not to mention the Amazon region of Pillcopata, which still is located whithin the boundaries of the Cusco region. Yet it seems that this large potential volunteer naturalist workforce of has yet to be engaged... the number of records for iconic and often conspicuous species such as the puma, jaguar, ocelot, and large birds such as tinamous, guans and large hawks are very small. Even the SPEACTACLED OR ANDEAN BEAR that has become relatively common to spot near the ruins of Machu Picchu, has been recorded as few as 3 times in the entire Cusco area, and all near Machu Picchu, although it is spread in many other provinces of the region of Cusco.

Other wide ranging mammal is the PUMA, COUGAR or MOUNTAIN LION, who's tracks can be seen in roasides near or in protected areas, particullarly after a rainy day. Same as the bear, only 3 records of puma has been made so far through Inaturalist in the region of Cusco, all from tracks, and lacking an adequate scale such as ruler, or lack photos of more prints from the same animal, which may jeopardize a precise identification.
Winners in terms of records are the ANDEAN GUAN in the region of Cusco, 14 in total, followed closely by the LARGE-HEADED CAPUCHIN, with 13 records. Other primates have been recorded, the COLOMBIAN RED HOWLER MONKEY in the Amazon area and the BLACK-CAPPED SQUIRREL MONKEY (captive), but only once each.
Noteworthy are two records of the WHITE-TAILED DEER, the only deer species recorded so far, but not the only one inhabiting the area.

The above mentioned project comes in two versions, one that people record species on their own and upload to Inaturalist, and another were people can accually join an actual expedition to record such species, mentored by me, and for the last you need to access natureandes.com.