Getting involved as a citizen scientist


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The Atlas of Living Australia wouldn’t be what it is without citizen science and volunteer involvement. There are many ways to get involved with citizen science, and you don’t need any special equipment or expert knowledge –  that’s the beauty of it. One of the easiest ways to contribute to the ALA is to submit biodiversity sightings via iNaturalist. You could do this all from the comfort of your home and record birds you see in your backyard! Another citizen science initiative is Digivol, where you can volunteer to assist with the digitization of physical collections. 

Sharing data – iNaturalist 

About is one of the world's most popular nature apps for recording and sharing species observations. It's a joint initiative between the California Academy of Life Sciences and National Geographic and has grown steadily since 2008. It now has more than one million users globally.

The ALA has become a member of the international iNaturalist Network, along with many other countries including Canada, Mexico and New Zealand. Each network member creates a locally branded gateway into iNaturalist, focusing searches within their national boundaries, supporting local conservation, and sensitive species management. For us, our local gateway is iNaturalist Australia.

The key to iNaturalist's success is the unique combination of a passionate community and machine learning technology. This system is built to assist with species identification. Novice naturalists needing help with species identification benefit from both iNaturalist’s image recognition software and the expertise of the iNaturalist community. Within hours of uploading an image, you can receive confirmation on species identification. People with expertise in a particular taxon can help identify observations, share their expertise, and contribute to a global conversation. This drives two great outcomes: connecting people with nature and improving citizen science data quality.

How does the ALA get data from iNaturalist?

Data is harvested from iNaturalist Australia to the ALA daily. After processing, it is refreshed once a week. Observations will come across to the ALA if they are

  • Shareable under a creative commons license 
  • In Australia 
  • Verifiable observations-those which are marked as Needs ID or Research Grade 

If an iNaturalist observation is updated with a new identification, image, or a changed location, the record in the ALA with be updated as part of the regular data harvest. If records are removed from iNaturalist, they will be removed from the ALA. 

Creating an iNaturalist account 

1. Head to and click on sign up. If you’d like you can read their Terms of Use and Privacy Policy before you begin. 

iNaturalist homepage


2. Fill in your details, you’ll need to click on a few things to verify you’re not a robot. You’ll also need to check the four boxes regarding image use and personal information. Then click on Create an Account. You can also sign up with Facebook or Google if you’d prefer. 

iNaturalist registration screen

How to record an observation

You can record an observation with iNaturalist in a number of ways, including via their website or using your iPhone/Android. From the website, once you’ve logged into your account, you’ll want to select + Add Observations:


where to record an observation on iNaturalist website

Now you can either choose your files you want to upload, or you can also record a sighting without an image by selecting the +add drop down in the top left-hand corner:

drag and drop photo or sounds interface

Now add the species name (if you know it), iNaturalist might make some species suggestions based off the photo which you can choose from. If you are not submitting a sighting with a photo you will need to populate the species field. We also recommend you add as much information as you can into the description box as this can help with identification and helps the data users know where the data has come from. 

add the species name

For more detailed instructions we recommend you go check out the getting started pages on iNaturalist. You’ll also find some specific information for recording a sighting with an iPhone or Android. 


DigiVol is an online tool that enables volunteers to capture data and digitize collections held within museums, libraries, archives, and herbaria. DigiVol is a collaboration between the ALA and the Australian Museum. Volunteers can help collection owners make their research material available to everyone online. 

The data have many uses but most importantly it can help scientists and decision makers better understand, utilise, manage, and conserve Australia’s biodiversity. Once these data have been digitized, the information is fed into the ALA as well as some other individual institutions and databases making it available to a wide range of people! To learn about all the wondering work Digivol has done over the past 10+ years check out this write-up by the ALA. 


All you need to get involved is a computer, internet access, and an email address, for more information about what they do and how to get involved check out about DigiVol on their website!