OK I Found a Grassland, Now What?

How to Document a Grassland with iNaturalist 

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When you find a grassland remnant then you need to know how to “work it” like a botanist. Even for trained botanists it can be difficult to walk into a diverse prairie or savanna and break the survey process down into easy steps. The trick is you have to compartmentalize. That is break the site down into sections and then work each section systematically. We don’t expect all of our volunteers to document every plant or animal at the site and often you may be crunched for time and have to survey it quickly. What we want to do is (1) teach you how to maximize your time to survey the site; (2) how to photograph enough to give others who’ve never been to the site a solid idea of what the site is like and what species grow there; (3) how to search for particular species of conservation concern that land managers want to know about to help them make the best decisions. The process of documenting the biodiversity of prairie remnants can be an extremely fun, educational, and rewarding process. We’d love for you to spend all the time you need and visit the site multiple times throughout the year, but sometimes you may only have one time to visit or you may need to do a very quick visit if the work is part of larger time-sensitive project. Practice the steps outlined below and you can find out how to do this as swiftly as can be expected.

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Study the photo above of this 3-acre prairie remnant. A site like this could easily support 150 plant species. After securing permission to visit the site and finding a safe spot to park, you walk into the prairie and are ready to begin. Study this photo a minute and consider the following questions:

  1. Where do I begin to survey first?

  2. It all looks the same from a distance, how do I know if I’m photographing what I should?

  3. How will I use iNaturalist to photograph species that live here?

  4. How should I take general site photographs to document the site?

Step 1. Break the site down into zones. These may correspond to different habitats, landforms, land features, soils, moisture levels. The slideshow gallery below shows representative grassland types along roadsides and how we would suggest breaking them into different zones.


At this site, no trees exist in the open grassland zone. They are only along the edge and because we have separated the edge zone from the open grassland zone into two separate zones, then we don’t have any trees to document here.


Pace Yourself

For the site above, two botanists spent 30 minutes on site and walked over about half of the 3-acre prairie. In that time, they made 89 iNaturalist observations documenting a total of 68 species, 64 of which were plants and 4 were pollinators.