“Technology is both friend and enemy” to conservation and the appreciation of nature (Beck & Dustin, 2016, p. 22). Nature and conservation-themed smartphone applications are a relatively new technology that conservationists should become friendlier with.
Smartphone applications (or ‘apps’) are programs found on phones or tablets that are task-focused, simple to install, and generally inexpensive (Jepson & Ladle, 2015). Though we usually hear about apps such as Angry Birds (which now has its own movie) and Snapchat, I wanted to learn more about nature and conservation-themed applications. Many people, including scientists and the general public, seem apprehensive about combining nature with technology, as some point out that being in nature should be an immersive experience, uninterrupted by gadgets (Beck & Dustin, 2015). However, Jepson and Ladle (2015) argue that smartphone applications
have the potential to transform how humans interact with nature, cause a step change in the quantity and resolution of biodiversity data, democratize access to environmental knowledge, and reinvigorate ways of enjoying nature. (p. 827)
There are many types of nature-focused smartphone applications. Jepson and Ladle (2015) found that there are six primary categories of nature apps, including phone personalization, games, nature recreation, on-site help, reference and news, and citizen science (p. 827).
With the ubiquity of smartphones comes the opportunity to engage more people with nature than ever before. But are we seizing that opportunity? When I searched for nature-themed apps to review for this project (more on that below), I was surprised at how difficult it was to find them! Many apps that came up when I searched for “nature” or “conservation” were either not related to these subjects at all or were games without any truly nature-centric elements. Jepson and Ladle (2015) also discovered how few smartphone apps focus on the environment. They found that out of the over 1 million apps available in the Google Play Store, only about 6,300 of them were nature-related (Jepson & Ladle, 2015). Of those 6,300 applications, only 33 were created for the purpose of citizen science (Jepson & Ladle, 2015). So while there is great potential for engaging, nature and conservation-focused smartphone apps, conservationists need to work with those in technological fields to create more of these applications (Jepson & Ladle, 2015). If conservation efforts are to remain relevant and exciting, it is crucial for conservationists to get involved with new technology, like smartphone applications, in innovative ways (Jepson & Ladle, 2015). Ideally, we will someday be able to discuss any aspect of conservation and know that “there’s an app for that”. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
In the following blog posts on this topic of nature and conservation-themed smartphone applications, I will be covering the pros and cons of this technology, as well as providing my reviews of several nature apps that I have recently tried. Stay tuned!
Beck, L., & Dustin, D. (2016). Technology on the Trails. Legacy (National Association For Interpretation), 27(6), 20-22.
Jepson, P., & Ladle, R. J. (2015). Nature apps: Waiting for the revolution. Ambio, 44(8), 827-832. doi:10.1007/s13280- 015-0712-2