Evidence instead of intuition: Flora Incognita and the location data

Project goals

One question that keeps popping up is why we collect location data. The answer lies in understanding that Flora Incognita is more than just an app. Flora Incognita is a scientific research project of the TU Ilmenau and the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry Jena.

One of our project results is the increasingly well-known app „Flora Incognita“. It offers everyone the opportunity to determine plants. But there is more to it than that:

  • Development of the infrastructure to manage, sort and verify the findings.
  • Motivate people to get to know the plants in their environment
  • Long-term: Contribution to the mapping of plant species in Germany

What does mapping mean?

Mapping refers to the recording of species in a defined area. This is where everything comes full circle: a defined area. In order to map a species, we need to know where the plant grows.  In other words: We can only evaluate determinations of species that are linked to location coordinates. Plant findings without location are irrelevant for this goal of our research project.

Determinations of the Bunias orientalis by Flora Incognita observations in 2019. A current distribution focus can be seen in Thuringia and along the Rhine.

 Why map?

The death of bees, no more butterflies in the garden, no more insect patches on the windscreen: the discussion about the dramatic decline in biodiversity has finally reached the daily press or everyday life.

Many people have an (individual) sense of how to protect nature and conserve species. To really be able to do something, however, it takes more than a feeling: it takes data and facts. With these data the both the development and the decline of plant species in Germany can be observed. Thanks to such evaluations, scientists can inform authorities and politicians if necessary and derive recommendations for action.

Currently (May 2019), 20000 to 30000 determination requests are sent daily to our servers. Thank you for that! Each individual could, if the location is also transmitted, prove the occurrence of a species at this point.  With these data a picture about the dynamics of plants in Germany can be drawn even over longer periods of time. Complete Flora Incognita data can also contribute to phenology monitoring. The beginning of flowering of certain plant species defines the „phenological“ seasons. This is of great importance, for example, in agriculture: apple trees at Lake Constance usually bloom earlier than in Hamburg!

Only in combination with location data can we scientifically evaluate the observations and create facts for species and environmental protection.

The app also benefits from location data

The rarer a species, the more likely it is to be found in certain habitats only. Of course, it is (still) the case that we do not have as many training images of very rare or very similar species as we do of common or eye-catching species. The location data are also an essential aspect to increase the certainty of identification. So if you are wondering how the app can be so sure, it may be because your location has been included in the determination algorithm.

Another personal added value that you get by activating the location permit is specific profiles. Information on protection status or the population development, for example, depends precisely on this information. You will also receive distribution maps of the species found if you provide us with the location information.

What happens to the location data?

„If I record orchids with Flora Incognita, couldn’t other people come and see the site and dig up the plants?“ Such and similar questions are often asked (LNDT blog article).

We are very aware of this problem and deal with it sensitively. All location data will be stored exclusively on our server and will not be made freely accessible.  In exceptional cases, nature conservation authorities or scientific research institutions are only provided with anonymized location data.

Your contribution to nature conservation

We hope that our app will inspire many people to get to know the plants in your area. We also hope that all users will trust us. Flora Incognita is and remains a research project without commercial interests. But for our research we need data.