Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How to make most of your biodiversity photos

I have been participating in DiversityIndia cyber communities for more than 10 years. In recent months there are more interactive options like Orkuk, Facebook and Google+ have become popular. There are increasing number of members and posts on these communities every month. I have been thinking of making all the good information more useful and available to people who are concerned about environment and want to use this information for that, rather than merely showing off the photos and replying with like or + and wow and beautiful.

When we take a photo of any plant or animal in the wild (outside a zoo or botanical garden), we create a record of that organism being present in that place at that point of time. This is very important information for scientists who study

  • Geographical Distributions
  • Ecological Niches
  • Invasive species
  • Behaviour
  • Microecology
and so on

By simply specifying the date and location we can help all these people to understand and protect our natural heritage.

It is important to specify the date and place in proper format to avoid confusion. To let people know when it was clicked use date of photo like 2012-08-15 for 15th August 2012 rather than “this month” or “this year Independence Day”. Similarly “my backyard” is not useful at all, rather use “Bangalore, Karnataka” or “Niphad, Nashik Dist, MH”. Specify time if you can, sometimes it adds an interesting dimension in behaviour. So in consultation with some experienced members we are trying to develop a very simple yet powerful format to document these photos while posting.

The format looks like this:

Scientific Name:
Common Name:
Lat: , Lon:

If a member does not know the name of the species, first two fields of scientific Name and Common Name are left blank for the time being. They are filled in by the member once someone helps with the id. Locality is descriptive information about where it was seen. It starts from village or locality and goes all the way to state and country. Lat and Lon values are very simple to obtain now with the technologies we have. There is no need of expensive GPS. We can use Google maps ( for this. Just zoom in to the location you had been for photography. Make sure you zoom in maximum possible and then use right click menu What’s here? It will display Lat Lon values on top in search box. Date should be in formay YYYY-MM-DD so it is simple for computer to understand. Remarks is the only optional field in this format. We can use it for information on Habitat, weather etc.

Members can always add more fields like Sex of organism, Life stage, association with other species etc. If we all just start filling this for every photo we post, within few months we would have a very important and useful data repository in place. And by doing this you will contribute to conservation efforts too, because the data will be used for research which will lead to better understanding and protection of the species.

It is not sufficient to add this information on photograph itself, because that may not be read and understood by automated computer scripts, and does not show up in the searches.

Note: This format is NOT final and suggestions and comments are welcome. Specially problems filling out would help us refine it. Remember we are trying to make it simple to fill yet powerful.