A way to prevent unexperienced users from identifying very critical taxa?

Many taxa or group of taxa are well-known to be extremely critical as far as their identifications is concerned, that is in most cases only skilled naturalists can provide a reliable identification. This means that in the vast majority of cases these taxa are not identifiable on photographic material, especially with just one or few photos as it is in most observations.
Provided that being unexperienced is not something bad, I am still convinced that spreading clichés or commoplaces, that in many cases have been exhaustively reported as erroneous, is not something that goes in the direction of the diffusion of scientific knowledge. In many cases the names for a supraspecific identification (genus, subgenus, complex, section etc…) are available in Inat.
Nor computer vision identification is of any help in these cases since often the second proposed id is the “cliché identification”.

So, I wonder if there could be a solution for this issue, if it can be defined an issue for the iNat community.


Variations of this discussion have been had before, and usually fizzle out. It’s extremely difficult to identify who is ‘‘experienced’’. iNat staff have made it clear that they’re not going to be giving anyone extra privilege due to external activities/expertise.
While a community-curated “difficulty rating” might be worth considering, it adds a ton of extra work and complication which may not be worthwhile. Curators already have a ton of work to do and I’m not sure giving them more before streamlining work that already exists makes much sense.
iNat is also all about community. If something is erroneously identified, and is on GBIF, and the scientist using the data takes it without double-checking the data themselves, it is the scientist’s fault for not being rigorous in collecting data. I’d rather use these mistakes as an opportunity to teach newer naturalists.
The data isn’t important. Connecting people with nature is – and is the purpose of iNat. Creating arbitrary barriers is gatekeeping. Basically all of the scientific and academic world already has this exclusionist attitude and I don’t want to see it on iNat.


I would just like to spread what I know. Gatekeepers just reveal few of what they know or just spread false truth.
Notwithstanding I think that there is nothing bad in admitting that for a given subjects there are skilled people together with unexperienced ones. Moreover, as regards, I am convinced that spreading knowledge will allow more people to pass from the “unexperienced category” to the “skilled category”.

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iNat should be more about possibilities than restrictions, it’s impossible to say who’s experienced and each user is equal, what can be made is more open information, so more aerticles and posts, more people looking up those observations in question and leaving explaining comments on why it’s not the best possible way to id it. Every group is different though, and any id work is welcome. Which taxa you have in mind?


I deal only with plants and, as regards, the first ones I think of are Taraxacum section Taraxacum, Hieracium, Alchemilla (that is genera in which agamospecies are frequent), Rosa section Canina, Ornithogalum umbellatum sensu latissimo, Stellaria media group.

I was not thinking of restrictions in a strict sense but rather of something that could raise awareness that providing a certain identification for a given taxon is extremely critical and that could suggest to examine in depth the case before providing an id.

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It’s more about what AI suggests imo, it’d be cool if species from genera like Alchemilla wouldn’t be shown as suggestions as it’s impossible to id the from a single picture thus making visual suggestions far from precise, that’s the main problem I think as those unexperienced users 90% use the suggestion that they see.


Definitively it is an aspect that goes along with the proposals to address the issue of unflagged cultivated plants. In this regard, in a previous post, it was proposed a pop-up system to suggest users that what they are going to post could actually be something non-wild.
With critical taxa a similar solution could be evaluated in the phase of identification, if possible of course


I’d argue that getting the correct ID isn’t critical. What is critical, is posting good observations with accurate date and location information. Following that, it is critical for the scientists using the observations to identify the observations themselves rather than taking the easy way out and just downloading the data and trusting the IDs. This is true for herbarium specimens also–many professionally curated collections are riddled with misidentifications. I’m using iNat observations of bumblebees for my research and have spent many, many hours going through all the observations confirming IDs one by one before using the data.


also worth noting that from a scientist’s perspective they ought to be grateful for all the free data collection. it’s going to be imperfect, but it’s completely given by volunteers and you didn’t even have to recruit them. by encouraging new users – by being kind and generous and helpful to those who make mistakes – you personally will benefit by getting even more free data in the long run, and the world will benefit by getting more naturalists.
I too spend time correcting mistakes. Some of them obvious, some of them subtle. It’s annoying sometimes, but I do it because I think it’ll be beneficial to the scientific community in the long run and as a way to learn. And I don’t even bother with identifying cultivated stuff because it doesn’t interest me any more – but I still think users should feel welcome to at least try to ID, and to add their garden plants. It would be kinda silly to expect users, who are here of their own free will, to behave in a way that will benefit the particular way I like to use iNat. (but please post photos that are in focus lol)


I would not make this topic a matter of data. But, as you pinpointed, it could be also a matter of data. And, as regards, I think that making available reliable data is a strength of iNat. But, on the other hand, I still think that it will be nearly impossible for iNat to make available research grade observations of taxa that are mostly unidentifiable. At least, unless one of the few expert of these taxa will not join our community.
As you did, for critical but still identifiable taxa (e.g. subtribe Orobanchinae in old world and Fumaria spp.) I am trying to ID as many as possible obs even though they often do not display all the necessary characters.
Instead, actually I think that those that could mostly benefit from becoming aware that, for example, the dandelion they photographed in their garden is not Taraxacum officinale, are the unexperienced users and not the skilled botanists.

Considering your position, you may want to change the title of the topic a little to better reflect what you mean ;)

Another thing that I’ve been doing is to create guides for identifying taxa that I’m interested in, and linking to the guide when I make IDs of observations so that users know what’s possible to ID (and what’s not) and what characters to look for. I’ve been surprised at how quickly identifications improve with just two or three newly-empowered, amateur identifiers helping out (knowledge spreads within the community–it just needs a seed). Here’s an example: we went from almost every Agalanis in Texas being misidentified, to most of them being identified correctly. And several amateurs have now taken a role in identifying new observations (some of them have even corrected my own misidentifications).


This is awesome. I strongly support making clear, easily accessible “expertise” resources to help people who are currently ignorant but willing to learn. Then it’s easy for you or another person to just throw the relevant link into the comment while correcting someone’s id.

I have also seen the taxon cleanup effect from just a couple more “trainees” involved, who learned from earlier comments here and got psyched about applying their new knowledge.


I am new to iNat. I have been quite frustrated when trying to ID certain taxa, e.g. Salix. A guide (or some words from experts on how to ID that group) would be awesome & extremely helpful. I wonder if there is a place on iNat where I can find guides easily.


Welcome to the Forum, @voleman :)
What sort of guidance are you looking for? A book/field guide? A local who knows what plants are in your area? Or a specialist in your species of interest?

a while ago i was given a friendly heads-up on one of my observations of a small bee, requesting that i not try to id to species level since the genus or family was a tricky one. i think friendly reminders like that can help! i’ve been more conscientious of my confidence level in making ids since i got that comment, and i choose genus or higher much more frequently now when i’m not sure.
as long as it’s not a hostile message, i think most users are like me and are more than willing to learn and adjust their observations accordingly.


Has POWO’s taxonomy changed since this flag? https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/290491
If not, then from iNaturalist’s perspective, they are still T. officinale.
I’m not sure how to interpret POWO’s pages:
http://plantsoftheworldonline.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:1003018-2 (from the distribution map - only found in Sweden, or only native to Sweden?)
I assume if POWO redefined the species then iNat’s species taxon could be merged into the genus taxon and save identifiers an immense amount of time.
(for context for anyone reading, see this thread)

Just search for a plant id book for your region, there’ll never be a worldwide key for this gigantic genus and you already can read about how to id them. You need a full plant view, a branch, leaf from both sides, and flowers of course as it’s the main needed part.

Fortunately you are not alone. There is a number of users (I do not know if many or just some) who have created guides for the identification.
But I was wondering if there could be a solution acting upstream, just before an ID is submitted. Instead, I have the feeling that mostly unexperienced users are not aware that there are guides prepared by some users that could allow them to break free from clichés. Otherwise why should they insist on those clichés?

Things are not as simple as it could seem as there are hundreds to one thousand taxa described in the section T. officinale belongs to. Still a comprehensive work on section Taraxacum hasn’t been written, so only an expert could provide an iD and, likely, only for a certain area. Given this, the probability that a certain “common dandelion” is the real T. officinale is very small. So why not stopping at the section level, a name that is available in iNat? The same approach could apply to a certain number of other plant genera.
For taxa belonging to Taraxacum section Palustria there could be a small, despite not null, possibility of identification since there is a monography and all newly described taxa refer to that work.
Moreover, also the use of the name T. officinale is questionable. This would affect the use of the name Taraxacum officinale also in the area from where the type specimen comes from.

Because it’s much simpler, faster to get RG and people are sure it’s a complex (which existed but was deleted), in fact there’s a big question of what T. officinale is, so now it’s either all wrong or all right, for iNat purposes the latter is better.