Scientists Catalog Creatures in Every Corner of Los Angeles

In a huge citizen science project, scientists are turning to an urban environment to seek out biodiversity

los angeles
Siqui Sanchez Photo/Corbis

When it comes to searching for new species, Los Angeles probably isn’t the first place most people would think to look. After all, the California metropolis is known for its urban sprawl and miles of highways. But in reality, L.A. is one of the most diverse ecosystems anywhere on Earth, with all manner of animal species in its streets. Now, the city is hosting one of the world’s largest biodiversity studies in an attempt to find and catalogue the many types of animals that have made L.A. their home.

“There is no magic boundary that nature does not come across,” Greg Pauly, co-director of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s new Urban Nature Research Center tells Rory Carroll for The Guardian. “And the reality is we don’t know a lot about the nature here in LA.”

L.A. is one of the United States’ busiest ports, taking in flights from all over the world. With as many as 200,000 people passing through Los Angeles International Airport each day, there are bound to be little stowaways in luggage and on people.

Recently, Pauly was called out to Beverly Hills to track down a noisy group of Puerto Rican coqui frogs, and over the last two years the Natural History Museum’s entomologist Emily Hartop has discovered 43 new species of flies previously unknown to science, Fred Pearce reports for the New Scientist.

“This tells us how dynamic nature is in L.A.,” Pauly tells Carroll.

L.A. is located in a part of the state called the “California Floristic Province.” The region stretches from L.A. north to San Francisco and is considered one of the world’s greatest biodiversity hotspots thanks to the climate and variety of ecosystems it contains. Now, researchers at the Natural History Museum are hoping to inspire volunteer citizen scientists to help find, catalogue and categorize L.A.’s abundant wildlife in one of the world’s largest biodiversity studies, Deborah Netburn reports for the Los Angeles Times.

In a new project called the City Nature Challenge, the Natural History Museum is asking Angelenos to send in photos of as many wild plants and animals as they can find in the city’s streets. Researchers hope to collect as many species as possible, though there are some guidelines to the project to keep it restricted to wildlife.

“Domesticated pets will not be included in our species counts,” Alison Young, the citizen science coordinator at the San Francisco academy, which is partnering with the Natural History Museum for the project, tells Netburn. “And if you go to the zoo and take wonderful photos of giraffes and elephants, that’s awesome, but it won’t count because they are not wild in these areas.”

However, plants growing outdoors can be counted, regardless of whether or not they were imported to the state. Through the simple act of getting people to look closely at the living things around them, the researchers hope they can paint a more complete picture of the ecosystems that pervade even L.A.’s world of asphalt and concrete.

“Especially as our world is going through so many changes, it’s important to understand where different plants and animals are thriving now, so we can compare that to where they were found in the past and better understand where they might be going in the future,” Young tells Netburn.

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