New photo station uses cell phones to track environmental changes

July 15, 2022

A new environmental monitoring station that uses cell phone photos to track changes in a newly planted prairie at Dutro-Ernst Woods in Muncie is now ready to use.

The citizen-science tool, which was installed by Red-tail Land Conservancy, allows the community to assist in research and management of natural areas by creating a crowd-sourced digital time lapse.

“Prairie restoration takes painstaking patience and perseverance. It can be frustrating when an ecosystem does not look dramatically different overnight. Or even over months,” Kelley V. Philips, Red-tail's communication and outreach manager, said in a press release. “Because habitats take decades to recover after development and disturbance, we face a challenge of keeping the community excited about ecological restoration when, day-to-day, it may seem the same.”

Nature preserve visitors can add to the time lapse by positioning their cell phone on the station’s platform, taking a photo, and submitting it via email. Directions on the station instruct visitors on the process.

Each new photo adds to the time lapse video. By watching it, the community and land managers can pinpoint changes in a landscape that are challenging to visualize at nature’s gradual, slower pace. After submitting a photo, the visitor is emailed a copy of the time lapse video that includes their picture. The time lapse can be viewed here.

“This summer is the first season we are starting to see the grasses and flowers planted in 2020. While it is still going to be years until the habitat reaches its full potential, visitors will be able to notice the subtle differences in plants and wildlife with each season,” Phillips said. “The visual data that will come from everyone’s photo submission to the time lapse will make the transformation even more dramatic and satisfying to watch. It will be a great reference tool for other prairie restoration projects.”

The prairie near the entrance of Dutro-Ernst Woods was selected for this project because of its easy public access and ongoing restoration efforts. The site was once the Ernst Nursery but had been vacated for decades before Red-tail Land Conservancy acquired it. After years of soil preparation, seeds for a shortgrass prairie were planted in December of 2020.

Dutro-Ernst Woods, which is located at 1601 S Perdieu Road in Muncie, is open daily from dawn to dusk.

New photo station uses cell phones to track environmental changes