Citizen scientists have a new mobile app to add to their arsenal, a virtual field guide that allows them to identify tree species by taking a photograph of the tree’s leaves.
LeafSnap, developed by computer scientists at Columbia University and the University of Maryland, in collaboration with botanists at the Smithsonian, uses technology similar to that used in face recognition software. iPhone and iPad users can simply take a photo of a leaf and the app compares it with others in a central library of around 8000 images.
“To its creators, LeafSnap isn’t just a way to put smartphone or tablet owners more in touch with the flora around them. It could be a way to tap the power of citizen science to map the spread and the diversity of trees in unprecedented detail. “
For now the app only covers trees and shrubs of the northeastern United States, but the developers hope to cover all the trees of North America within a few years. The free app is available for iPad and iPhone, and an Android version is on the way.