Conservation from your bubble with iNaturalist

Department of Conservation —  29/04/2020

Even at home in Level 3, there are ways to let nature into our lives to improve our health and wellbeing. Research shows nature boosts our immune system and reduces stress and anxiety.

We spoke to three of our Science Advisors about mahi we could do to benefit conservation — and all within our bubbles.

Over to you, team.

Fiona Thomson, Technical Advisor Weeds

On the adventures of weed identification

Phew, as an extrovert in a small bubble, things are getting a touch grim despite all the connecting through social networks.

Don’t get me wrong, as a scientist I understand how important it is that we knock the spread of COVID-19 in little old NZ. It’s also close to my heart that we follow the rules since I have a family member with a severely compromised immune system. This short term (minor) pain for me, is for the long term gain for us all.

It’s hard though, not being able to do the things I typically do to relieve stress or entertain myself, so the restlessness is really kicking in as I stay in my little local bubble. And although I appreciate the Teddy bears in people’s windows I’d say the daily walks are getting TEDious. (Haha ha see what I did there.. a pun.. on Ted.. as in teddy bear… oh no, I’m resorting to puns, I told you things are getting grim).

What I need now is a distraction… a new activity.. a bubble job for my bubble based spare time.

Luckily I’ve got one! In fact we all do, a conservation job that we can all do together. Whoop whoop! Now, how seriously cool is that!

The excitement is real, letting out whoops of glee I log a weed on iNaturalist. My dog Tahi ecstatically looks on. The best bit is suggestions are made for you by the app on what weed it might be. Very cool! 📷: Fiona Thomson

Location: Your itty, bitty wee bubble

Job type: Casual long-term

Job description: We need you! Remove the lingering shackles of tech phobia and become an iNaturalist user! Grab your phone, download the app and start snapping. Take photos of organisms, especially weeds, myrtle species or myrtle rust in your bubble! This data can be used by scientists to understand where our conservation threats or taonga species are in NZ.

Reward: You will receive a general sense of achievement and fun. Plus you’ll learn what those critters and weird plants are in your bubble!

inat website-edited
Here is my observation logged on iNaturalist, and I can see other observations of the same plant in the area. 📷: Fiona Thomson

I received an email less than 24 hours later confirming the identity of my weed finds.

Suliana Teasdale, Myrtle Rust Operations Advisor

On the hunt for red lesions and yellow rust

During these days of bubble limited walks, keen rust finder Vince (he doesn’t really care about the rusts but loves the walks) and I decided to take up the challenge of hunting for local myrtles, checking them for myrtle rust and posting our quarry to iNaturalist.

Vince “patiently” waiting to go for our morning hunt. 📷: Suliana Teasdal

First, we hunt in our garden… we found two myrtles growing at our place, a couple baby mānuka doing their best in a pretty shady spot and a feijoa diligently fruiting with more ripening each day.  All three are now monitored daily for myrtle rust, because, well why not?…

Feijoa tree. 📷: Suliana Teasdal

Here’s a myrtle rust symptom free feijoa tree with delicious feijoas ripening way too slowly! It’s important to check both sides of a leaf when looking for myrtle rust, you can also find the rust on the fruit and stems – all the young “new” growth on the plant.

Vince was whining and sitting not-so-patiently, while giving me the ‘let’s go already’ stare!

After that, we went off for a walk to investigate the local streets and parks.

Vince helped me check the pōtutukawa lining the walkway through the golf course. There are a lot of pōtutukawa planted all over NZ.

To look for myrtle rust on pōtutukawa: check the young shoots that sprout from lower down the trunk and any young leaves hanging down. Leaves on our myrtles can have damage by all sorts of fungi and insects, if you think you spot myrtle rust or are unsure what’s causing damage to the trees you’re seeing, post a picture to iNaturalist and we can help you figure it out. 

After many hunts finding only pōtutukawa and mānuka, with an occasional feijoa and bottle brush seen over fences, we spotted a ramarama tree in someone’s front garden (we are getting to know all the ways to walk to Tawatawa reserve).

While trying to not look too creepy in my myrtle rust yellow hat, I eyed the new growth hanging over the fence. Luckily for the tree, it was healthy and myrtle rust symptom free.

The hunt continued though, and further up the street we spotted three more ramarama trees in another front garden…unfortunately for these trees we found myrtle rust!

Myrtle rust on red dragon ramarama cultivar. 📷: Suliana Teasdal

Here are bright yellow myrtle rust spores on a red dragon ramarama cultivar. Myrtle rust symptoms often cause red-purple discolouration on the leaves. White boxes and arrows are showing the characteristic bright yellow powder looking spores can be on either or all: both sides of the leaves, stems and fruit of the young growth on infected plants. As the weather turns colder, the bright yellow spores will stop appearing and symptoms will look more like grey patches or dead twisted stems and leaves (not shown).

If you do find Myrtle Rust on your adventures, you need to log it. We have details about what to do if you see it on our website.

You can also visit the Myrtle Rust Reporter project on iNaturalist to see our observations and other myrtles and myrtle rust finds across NZ.

Our hunts continue…

Clayson Howell, Science Advisor Threats

On encouraging the next generation of conservationists (with references)

Observations that contribute to the known extent of organisms are traditionally collected, identified, verified and curated in museums or herbaria. But for a range of reasons the rate at which these specimens are collected is declining worldwide (Prather et al 2004).

For invasive weeds, it takes an average of 45 years after naturalisation for 15 specimens to accumulate (Aikio et al 2010). But using iNaturalist, citizen scientists (such as yourself) can rapidly collect new observations, that can then be used for research when verified by others. The number of scientific publications using iNaturalist data are rapidly growing and now exceeds 3,900 (google Scholar Search April 14).

Weeds are predominantly garden escapes, I have found more than 50 Unwanted Organisms on short walks with young naturalists Blake (8) and Charlotte (10).

bug spotting-edited
Young naturalists may prefer to spot bugs than plants, who can find the most praying mantis on this Coast Olearia (Olearia solandri)? 📷: Clayson Howell
stick insect-edited
This stick insect is well camouflaged on the Californian lime in our garden. 📷: Clayson Howell

Here are some of the other finds from our walks:

The great thing about iNaturalist is that you can:

Get help with identifications: Thanks to the community, we’ve received a confirmed identification of ID on “a spider” in less than two hrs. This Knobled Orbweaver (Eriophora pustulosa) was hiding on some variegated ivy.

Boost your knowledge: Can you separate Common from German wasps, or English from Irish ivy? Here, Common wasps (Vespula vulgaris) congregate on Irish ivy (Hedera hibernica).

Monitor the spread: Before the lockdown, I found Myrtle rust on Ramarama (Lophomyrtus bullata) a few hundred meters from my office, but the plants in my garden at home are asymptomatic – for now.

The bottom line is:

You can contribute to the knowledge of NZ biodiversity, no matter what COVID-19 alert level we’re in.

Download the iNaturalist app. And get started.


Prather, L. A., O. Alvarez-Fuentes, M. H. Mayfield and C. J. Ferguson (2004). “Implications of the decline in plant collecting for systematic and floristic research.” Systematic Botany 29(1): 216-220.

Aikio, S., R. P. Duncan and P. E. Hulme (2010). “Herbarium records identify the role of long‐distance spread in the spatial distribution of alien plants in New Zealand.” Journal of Biogeography 37(9): 1740-1751.

6 responses to Conservation from your bubble with iNaturalist

    Carl Ahipene 10/06/2020 at 11:44 pm

    I work in the Rangiteki alot I see lots of old man’s beard all over everything what’s happening with that

    Alicia Warren 07/05/2020 at 3:47 pm

    So glad DOC has started realising the potential of iNaturalist! Let’s do it.


    If you’re a DOC staff member join our new project DOC on iNaturalist by searching for the project in the app or using this link
    We may even send out a prize for most observations during lockdown 😉


    Nice work – so many new weeds have been discovered by iNaturalist users – it is great to see the site promoted.


    Love this! I’m going to download and get spotting.

    Susan Timmins 29/04/2020 at 4:59 pm

    Thanks for the needed impetus to get iNaturalising you three 🙂