Survival of the fittest: Can newcomer Brno best Prague in global City Nature Challenge?


The City Nature Challenge – an annual, global community science competition to document urban biodiversity through amateur photography and the iNaturalist mobile app – gets underway this Friday. Last year, Prague ranked 40th out of some 159 cities, with nature-lovers in the Czech capital documenting nearly 1,000 species of flora and fauna.

Among those taking part in and promoting the four-day event is Charles University biologist and professional photographer Petr Jan Juračka, who says he has long used the iNaturalist app to help identify species in the field.

“As I am usually in the countryside with my kids, they’re always asking what some species of plant or animal is. So, I use the app mostly to make a basic identification, and then make a better determination with specials keys I have in my phone. But the basic, general determination is very simple and very fast.”

Last year in Prague, the Top Five most observed species in the City Nature Challenge were all sitting ducks, so to speak, and more precisely plants – the Common Lilac, Greater Celandine, Shepherd’s Purse, White Deadnettle and Garlic Mustard.
The Top Five observed fauna in the Czech capital were all birds – the Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Common Wood-Pigeon and Eurasian Moorhen – apart from the delightful Seven-Spotted Lady Beetle.

“For me, that the most-observed species are birds is not a big surprise as ‘birding’ is very popular not only in Europe but all over the world. They are beautiful and sing, so people like them.

“I think it’s pretty clear that many people are taking pictures of birds not on iPhones but on big DSLR cameras with tele lenses, and then uploading them to make some better determination. They can easily find the species in the books.”

Last year, Prague contestants also documented the odd Coypu (a huge rodent also known as a Nutria), Grey Herons, Spanish Slugs, Eurasian Coots, Ring-Necked Pheasants, Greater Bee Flies and Common Redstarts (whose name seems to belie their presence in this particular neck of the woods).

The list goes on – and on – which is precisely the point. The main aim of the City Nature Challenge is to make people more aware of the huge variety of flora and fauna in their cities, and more inclined to help preserve wildlife habitats. Still, the contest and rivalry itself be fun, says Charles University biologist Petr Jan Juračka.

“I’m very happy this year for the competition between Brno and Prague. For me, it will be fun to see that battle! But I’m a bit worried that people will stay home because of the coronavirus. That would be sad because there is a lot of nature to see in the city and parks.”

This year, more than 200 municipalities from around the world are due to take part in the City Nature Challenge. Anyone can take part, though all observations must be recorded between April 24 – 27. Local competition could prove fierce. Last year’s top participant in Prague, with the online moniker “maky-orel”, recorded 199 plant and animal species over four days.