Close-up of Yellow Star-thistle <em>Centaurea solstitialis</em>.

Peggy Greb/USDA

Close-up of Yellow Star-thistle Centaurea solstitialis.

Cell Phone App Combats Weeds

Hikers Can Help Document Invasive Plants

UCLA and the National Park Service have teamed up to combat weeds. The university’s Center for Embedded Network Sensing (CENS) and the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area developed a cell phone app to locate invasive plant species within national parks, which will help park service workers. The What’s Invasive! app is designed for use by citizen scientists, as well as park workers who, over the course of their normal duties, spot invasive plants out in the field. What’s Invasive! recently expanded to the Channel Islands National Park, where seven invasives are currently being monitored. Users can also set up their own park on the What’s Invasive! website and start collecting data.

Invasive species are non-native plants that become harmful to the native environment. They often displace native plants, which are an important food source for local animals. Many invasive species are more flammable than native species, in addition to using more water and having shallower roots, which can contribute to soil erosion.

The National Park Service recently conducted a two-week trial run of What’s Invasive! in 1,000 locations in the Santa Monica mountains with very positive results, according to Laura Newman, Policy and External Affairs Manager at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Center. “We sent out park staff with the phone and they were able to catalogue an enormous number of invasive species just in the course of their everyday jobs,” Newman said.

While park staff will play a large role in data collection, Eric Graham, CENS staff ecologist, explained What’s Invasive!’s conception: “One of the ideas of this What’s Invasive! campaign was to say ‘Well, hey, we’ve got a whole lot of hikers who use these trails every day and if we can leverage these people, then they can convey this info to the National Park Service, and we can use everyday citizen scientists to walk around and spot these things.’”

The application currently works on all Android G1 cell phones and CENS expects to have an application for iPhone ready for all national parks by the end of the month. (Presently only Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area has an iPhone app.) And for those citizen hikers without iPhones or Androids: Any phone capable of taking a picture can convey valuable data to Park Service workers.

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