For your final project this summer, you need to get outside and find some stuff. I watched a TED Talk last year that changed the way I think about nature and wild spaces. Ordinarily, when we think of the wild what comes to mind? Pristine natural areas, unspoiled by human activity? The speaker explained that, with climate change in mind, there really are no places left on the globe that are unaffected by people. Furthermore, places we often ignore or overlook can be full of living things. Places like weedy lots are great places to find interesting things but we tend to devalue those things because, they’re small, they’re not native to our area, or they don’t have much economic or aesthetic appeal. Since no habitats are pristine anymore, we should learn to accept and appreciate the weedy lots around our neighborhoods for the abundance of life they contain. So here’s what I want you to do: Take a walk. Around your yard, down the street, to a nearby park, it doesn’t matter. Hell, go all the way to Yellowstone National Park. Just find some place that is likely to contain abundant plant and animal life. And take your phone with you. While you’re out and about, take pictures of whatever living things you find. That includes plants, animals, fungi, whatever. The only restriction is that I’d prefer you take pictures of things that are growing on their own. That means don’t take pictures of the vegetables in your garden or the flowers in front of your building, take pictures of the weeds instead. Don’t take pictures of your pets, but you can take pictures of the stray cat that comes by every evening. Upload your photos to the website iNaturalist.org. If you already have a Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, or Flicker account, you can sign in through those and you don’t even need to create a new account. iNaturalist uses machine learning to automatically suggest possible identifications for the organisms in your photos. Once they are uploaded, human users are able to either confirm the computer’s suggestion or make their own suggestions. I use iNaturalist every day when I take pictures of insects for my Instagram account. It’s a lot of fun to use. Go online and do some research about the organisms that you found. Find out what their geographic ranges are, what habitats they prefer, what they eat, if they are generalists or specialists, what their current populations are, if they face any particular challenges, or any other interesting or noteworthy information. Create a field guide of the organisms you have found. A field guide is a book that contains pictures and information about a certain group of organisms, birds, or butterflies, or trees for example. Your guides will run the gamut of all types of organisms. Each entry should include your photo, the name of the organism, & the information you gathered about it. Your guides should contain at least 25 entries. Upload the completed guide here as a .pdf or .doc(x) file. I’m looking at you, Mac users. I might not be able to view your work if you use other file types. To summarize, go outside and photograph at least 25 different organisms of any sort, as long as they are not captive (like pets) or purposely cultivated (like plants in a garden). Identify the organisms you photographed using iNaturalist. Do some research about the natural history of your organisms. Compile that information into a mini-field guide. Upload your field guide to Blackboard as a .pdf or .doc(x) file. You will be graded on the quantity of organisms you find, the diversity of those organisms, the completeness of the natural history information, and the aesthetic qualities of your guide.
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