This list is one of the products put together by students in the 2011 edition of my graduate course in Plant-Animal Interactions.  As part of the class, my students developed a guide to the native tree species of the University of Florida campus, with information on the their dispersers, pollinators, and herbivores (you can download it here for your Android smartphone). The students also wrote a paper in the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America describing the process and laying out some of the ways smartphones can be used in ecological research, teaching, and extension).

If you are a developer and would like to add your app to the list please send me an email with a link to the apps home page. H/T to Elena Malykhina for her article highlighting several citizen science apps that were new to us.

Menu: The page is broken down into several categories.  We’re adding anchors so you can zoom up and down, but for now please just scroll down.

  1. Essential Accessories for using a smartphone in the field
  2. Other useful accessories
  3. The App list
    1. Field Safety & Communications
    2. Data Entry, Recording Observations
    3. Leaf Area, Canopy Cover, Herbivory
    4. Environmental Data
    5. Field Guides
    6. Mapping, GIS, & GPS
    7. Tools
    8. Citizen Science
    9. Reference Materials and Teaching
    10. Productivity, Workflow, and Data Storage
    11. Program your own app

Essential Accessories for Using a Smartphone in the Field

  • A lanyard: minimizes the risk of your phone getting damaged should it slip out of your hands or fall out of your pocket or pack. It is also a much quicker way to alternate between the phone and work requiring two hands.  You can find loads of wrist and neck lanyards online ( even has glow in the dark ones that seem like they would be good for people working at night).
    • Most lanyards require cases or phones with a lanyard slot. If your phone or case doesn’t have one – seems like most don’t – you can hack one (see this example for the Galaxy Note phone or this one for iphone cases).
    • Alternatively, you can buy an aftermarket clip that you screw into the baseplate of your phone and just attach the lanyard to that. Right now I am using a carabiner clip from Poddities, which I just clip to the inexpensive but very sturdy UCSD Revelle College lanyard I use to carry my keys, though note it may not work with all cases and charging stands.
    • If this is too big for your taste Poddities also makes a very low-profile base clip called the Netsuke (buy on Amazon), but note when my lanyard got snagged on a branch it slightly bent the base plate, making it a bit tough to for the Lightning cable to fit  properly.
    •  Beeline has launched a sweet-looking case with a built in retractable carabiner clip.
    • UPDATE: My new fav is this simple, inexpensive silicone cell phone sling that you can clip to a lanyard.
  • A drop-resistant (and/or waterproof) case: lots of blog posts summarize the options (see this one, this one, and this one for starters).  If you run the risk of dropping your pack in a stream or you work in environments where it rains, consider a case or sleeve that is waterproof but still allows you to use your phone for data entry.

Other Accessories

  • Do you record sound or interviews? You need a good external microphone. If you do playback you probably want better speakers too – the speakers on this list are all waterproof.
  • A selfie stick.  I know, I know.  But it is useful for pictures of plots you can’t reach, branches, and yes pictures of you doing field work. And don’t pretend you didn’t want an excuse to buy one. Get one with bluetooth shutter.
  • Do you take photos in the field? Insects or leaves with a macro lens? Canopy photos with a fisheye lens? There are plenty of reviews of lens kits out there (maybe we can convince Alex to post an update to this 2010 post?).
  • Where to buy accessories: In addition to Amazon, check out Photojojo, which has has a million (mostly iphone) accessories aimed at photographers, and there is  a lot here that would be of use to field scientists.




Field Safety & Communications

Data Entry, Recording Observations

Leaf Area, Canopy Cover, Herbivory

  • Canopeo by Oklahoma State University: analysis of forest canopy cover (iOS)
  • Canopy Cover Free: measures % Canopy Cover non-destructively using camera. (Android OS)
  • Easy Leaf Area: measure leaf area non-destructively  (Android OS)
  • LeafByte (iOS): measuring herbivory on leaves.
  • LeafScan: leaf area measurements (iOS)
  • Petiole: leaf area measurements (Android OS)
  • Leaf-IT: leaf area measurements (Android OS)
  • Gap Light analysis Mobile Apps (Android OS): analysis of hemispherical photographs taken in forests and calculation of Canopy Cover Index.
  • Pocket LAI – smartphone app for estimating Leaf-Area Index: Read about it here (presentation) and here (journal article). It is €35 for public institutes and students/€70 euros for private companies and currently available for Android, with iOS version available in spring 2015. For more information or to purchase contact:

Environmental Data

Field Guides

Mapping, GIS, & GPS


Citizen Science

  • HerpMapper: a 501(c)(3) nonprofit gathering and share information about reptile and amphibian observations across the planet. Data are made available to partners groups that use observations for research and conservation.
  • Wildlife Witness: allows tourists & locals to easily report wildlife trade by taking a photo, pinning the exact location of an incident and sending these important details to the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC (NB: this is AWESOME)
  • Project Budburst: national field campaign designed to engage the public in the collection of data on timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting of plants
  • Map of Life: a field guide whose range maps are refined by user input data
  • What’s Invasive!: submit geotagged photos and observations of invasive species
  • IveGot1: Identify and report Invasive Species in Florida
  • Nature’s Notebook Android App: from USA-NPN’s. Record observations on hundreds of species of plants and animals, as well as add new locations and species to your list in the field.
  • iMapInvasives: online tool for invasive species reporting and data management.
  • the USDA National Agricultural Library has a webpage with smartphone applications for invasive species monitoring and identification: link
  • Loss of the Night: for estimating the brightness of the night sky as part of a project on light pollution
  • BirdLog: the official app for data entry into the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s bird project.
  • Secchi: the Secchi Disk project encourages participation in a global study of phytoplankton in the sea by creating and using their own secchi disk.
  • mPing: report on precipitation
  • Marine Debris Tracker: log trash on coastlines and waterways
  • NoiseTube: monitor noise pollution with your smartphone
  • CalFlora: report native plant occurrences in California and then visualize them on the CalFlora map.
  • Creekwatch: monitor the quality of your local watershed
  • resources to develop your own Citizen Science Project, including app building (NB: looks *really* comprehensive and certainly has applications beyond CS, I think).
  • Urubu Mobile: Developed by Brazil’s Federal University in Lavras’ Center for The Study of Road Ecology (UFLA/CBEE) this cool app is used to register animal roadkill to study and mitigate the impacts of roads (read more here and here). Available for download for Android phones here.  PS “Urubu” is “vulture”in Portuguese…typical Brazilian sense of humor!
  • African Raptor Observations: accurately locate raptor sightings even while offline and send in from anywhere on the continent.  Perhaps under Data Entry and Recording Observations

Reference Materials and Teaching

Productivity, Workflow, & Data Storage


Program your own App


22 thoughts on “smartphone apps for field biologists

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