Need to Identify Exotic Weeds in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area? There's An App For That!

Need to identify invasive weeds at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area? There's an app for that!

Thanks to the folks at the NRA and the UCLA Center for Embedded Network Sensing, there's now a smartphone application for use in identifying the locations of invasive weeds in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The What’s Invasive! application, which can be downloaded onto any iPhone or Android mobile phone, allows visitors to the NRA (and soon other NPS locations) to snap a picture and map the location of an invasive weed found while out on a hike, bike ride, or horseback ride. This project will help National Park Service staff identify where weeds need to be removed in the park.

According to a park release, the location of each weed that a citizen scientist documents in the park is automatically uploaded to the What’s Invasive! website, allowing park staff and the public to see maps of invasive weed clusters and how they are spreading in the mountains. The website also tracks which citizen scientists are doing the most research, and guides people who are interested in the project, but may not have very much experience with technology, through the application set-up and options to use email and text message as alternatives.

Invasive weeds are a significant threat to native plant and animal species in the Santa Monica Mountains. Native food sources that wild animals rely on are being crowded out by proliferating non-native plants. Some invasive weeds are actually harmful if animals consume them, like Yellow Starthistle, which causes brain lesions and mouth ulcers in horses. Others, like the Giant Reed, invade along creek banks and decrease a creek’s ability to act as a fire barrier in the mountains. Many invasive weeds consume far more water than native plants, and some, like Poison Hemlock and Perennial Pepperweed, displace native plants that are effective at holding soil in place, and instead create erosion and increase the possibility of mud slides.

Combating invasive weeds requires a significant investment of resources. The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area spent $200,000 over a three-year period to map invasive weeds in the mountains. Assistance from citizen scientists in order to keep this map up to date and better equip park staff and volunteers to remove invasive weeds will help expand the scope of the effort.

While there might be a case or two in which native plants are misidentified as exotics by citizen scientists, the folks at the park plan to keep an eye on those photos that are submitted to make sure mistakenly identified plants are deleted from the database.

The What’s Invasive! application is one of several being developed by the Center for Embedded Network Sensing. In the spring, the National Park Service will once again partner with CENS to create a What’s Blooming application that will allow park visitors to track wildflower blooms in the mountains.