New contest gathers fresh insights into Alabama’s ecosystem

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By WVUA 23 News Student Reporter Emily Benito

TUSCALOOSA – The University of Alabama and Auburn University are once again in competition, but this time it’s not about football. The two schools are competing to see who can take more photos of their surroundings.

The two universities are trying to bring together research under the competition called Marble Bowl.

Team members earn points by taking pictures of plants, animals, and other natural state resources.

The competition began on September 3 and will end on Iron Bowl day.

Alabama Museum of Natural History Director John Friel said he was excited to see how the contest is going.

“We use a platform called iNaturalist which allows you to take a photo and upload it to the online system. You record where a particular species was in space and time. The idea is that you can go out and photograph the bugs or flowers you see and the birds that come to your feeder it’s kind of a friendly competition we’re going to have and we’ll see who wins and hopefully it becomes an annual event that we do every year,” Dr. Friel said.

The contest will help Alabama scientists learn more about the state’s biodiversity.

The goal of this contest is to engage community members in collecting data about Alabama’s diverse natural footprint.

The app will catalog where you took the image and ask for the identification of the plant or animal photographed. If the participant does not know what it is about, it does not matter. The app allows the community to comment on and tag image content.

There are a few basic rules to this competition. All photos must be taken in Alabama. Animals and plants should naturally be found in nature and not in a domestic environment. Pets and cultivated plants are not eligible for the contest.

“The idea is that it’s a fun way to do it. We all love football, but when we’re not watching the games, it’s a great activity. Anyone can do it at any age. You can do it with your kids, and you can do it anywhere…on campus, at home, or wherever you go in the state,” Dr. Friel said.

Auburn University currently leads the competition, with the most entries and materials submitted.

To enter the contest, Alabama residents can download the i-Naturalist app and join their favorite team.

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