Add a third option for captive/cultivated question (unknown or grey area)

Mentioned many times by multiple people in several topics but doesn’t look like anyone ever made a feature request. I don’t currently support this feature request, just putting it out there to facilitate discussion.

It’s not possible to determine whether some organisms are wild or not. Certain plants in ecological restoration projects, fish in stocked areas, garden “volunteers”-or-not, and many other cases extensively discussed elsewhere on the forum (search for captive, cultivated, or wild).

This feature request is not proposing the default selection be changed to unknown, but to remain as wild. I am also not suggesting that more than one additional option should be added. These observations should not appear on taxon page range maps.

I do think if this is ever implemented it would be contingent on there being a more nuanced treatment of Casual / Needs ID / Research Grade and Verifiable / Not Verifiable. Discussion of that much larger topic should be held on existing or other topics (like the “Rename Research Grade” one).

I haven’t thought about how the voting system would work and how many votes/majority would be required to move it from one state to another.

Good idea. I’d also like a “maybe wild” option, or similar. (And, an improved handling of the whole research grade/captive-cultivated thing.)

I’ve recently been trying to pull together all of the wild naturalised (exotic) plant species that have been reported in the Canterbury region of New Zealand through iNaturalist, that were previously not known to be wild. It proved to be an enormous headache, and I’ve still not finished it, because so many people, especially casual users, don’t ever touch the “captive/cultivated” option.

Observations on iNat that don’t have “captive/cultivated” checked cannot be interpreted as wild, without a lot of manual inspection and cleaning. They’re essentially “wild+maybe wild+didn’t think about”.

I know people like you (and me) have been trying to clean these observations up and set cultivated things to “captive/cultivated”. That’s very useful, but it’s a big job that’s only getting bigger as the community grows.

This situation would be improved if more of us also used the “definitely wild” counterpart to “captive/cultivated” in the data quality assessment. Then, the default observations could still be treated as “possibly wild”, like they are now, but we’d have a quality subset of observations that we know are wild, alongside the subset we know are captive/cultivated. I know I’ve tended to ignore that and just focus on flagging the captive/cultivated things. (I don’t think users can say “definitely wild” on the app either, just the website.)


I also think that this is a very good idea, but maybe it could be made by using the Research Grade Qualification that is already there; the default would be still the same, but the observation would not get to research grade if the “yes” in “Organism is wild” is not checked (as a “definitely wild” option). I think that either of this options should be implemented, so I am positive in either way. This option maybe would be easier to do on a informatic point of view, but it also could have some side effects that I am not aware of.

I cannot vote for this until/unless the above is defined. If it isn’t treated differently than both captive/cultivated and the other current option, it would be pointless. Just another line for people to quibble about which side of it something falls on. What is the history of the piece of land 10, 25, 50, 100, or more years ago to base whether a tree was planted or not? Unless I was familiar with the specific area, I would have to mark most trees as unknown, very few would I be comfortable not marking as either unknown or cultivated.


@pdfuenteb I agree. It doesn’t need much. All we’d need is a tweak to the user interface on the app (and perhaps website Identify page) so we’d swipe a toggle left for “definitely wild”, right for “definitely captive/cultivated”, and otherwise leave it untouched. (In my personal opinion, whether something is wild or not shouldn’t have anything to do with Research Grade, but that’s another discussion.)

@clay_s I agree, but I also think there is value when we know for sure that something is wild, and keeping that separate from all the city trees that are of unknown origin. With so much planting going on, it’s difficult to know which adult trees in a city are wild and which are not, but sometimes the location or the history make that clear. We can currently mark that something is wild in the Data Quality Assessment on the website but not on the app, so it’s not something that most users are considering when they make their observations. It would be handy if it was.


I was about to request this feature today (I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time). I am personally not too concerned about the “grey area” observations, though it would certainly be nice to have an option for those. I come across plants in an “unknown” situation quite regularly.

What has become a constant thorn in my side since I switched over to IDing more plants is that it seems like iNat may have as many cultivated plant observations as wild ones at this point, and most of them are NOT flagged as cultivated. Many of these are posted by inactive users, and in many cases, it is not possible to tell whether the photo is of a cultivated plant or not. So, I just wish that “wild” was not a default. A third option of “unknown” would seem to remedy this issue, but only if it becomes the default. That way, users that want to post photos but don’t notice the captive/cultivated option don’t end up posting a string of ambiguous plant observations.

@bouteloua, you specifically state that you would not want the “unknown” option to be the default. Why would it be preferable to default all new observations to “wild?” Adding an “unknown” option AND making it the default seems like a win-win to me.

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Because 99% of my own observations are wild and I don’t feel like tapping even more buttons to create an observation. :)


I agree with cassi on this. The great majority of those users who post thousands of observations are probably in a similar situation. I’m not against an “unknown” option, but more important, I think, is for there to be more onboarding for new users to guide them through adding captive/cultivated status, as discussed in other threads. Also, captive/cultivated is already the default for certain species in certain areas, where most existing observations of that species are marked as such.


When I am cataloging plants in my gardens, to me “cultivated” is a plant that a human deliberately planted there, “adventive” is the normal biology word for a plant that turned up on its own. Currently, for the latter, I don’t check the cultivated box but specify adventive in the comments. To me, the best default would be ‘origin unknown’ and a second checkbox box added for “wild”. IMHO

I’m in the same boat as far as uploading primarily wild specimens, but I’d like to think seriously about what would result in greatest data integrity vs. what is most convenient for power users. If there was a way to do this just for plants, that would be ideal, but I imagine that might be difficult from a practical standpoint. Better onboarding would be fantastic, though, I can’t honestly say I know what the onboarding process is since I joined in 2015.

I guess this is a question for the actual staff, but to me, preserving data integrity is the most important goal, followed closely by user-friendliness for new members. It seems to me that defaulting to an “unknown” status would be beneficial to both of these goals, with the only downside being a “box check” for power users. From a data analysis perspective, I find it hard to defend a default to “wild,” when there is an increasing user-base uploading cultivated observations as wild, simply due to this default. Perhaps an option could be created in which a power-user could change THEIR default to “wild,” so that everything that THEY upload is wild? This would seem to serve all parties. If this could be achieved, I think it would help immensely with data quality.

That concept aside, you’re faced with a quality vs. quantity issue. Which is more important and what are the parameters of the goals of this database? That, I cannot answer.

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That would be great. Or potentially a “feral” option for domestic species. It’s frustrating when an observation of anything to do with my local feral colony (not that I make a lot of them) are tagged as casual. Or in another instance I made an observation of street dogs in Guatemala (wild dogs are a big problem there) and when I objected to it being tagged as casual they replied, “Well you can’t know these dogs don’t have owners.” :upside_down_face:

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And plants for which this is mainly, but not exclusively an issue represent a minority of observations on the site. It would also represent additional time for folks not uploading plants.

To me, accuracy of data trumps convenience in any scientific enterprise. Plant people want a distinction between known-hybrid and unknown-species, plus as I note above adventive vs. wild.

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But on iNat, unfortunately, Cultivated simply means Not Wild.


In Annotations for Alive/Dead and Sex for animals, “Cannot be determined” is an option. That might work. Or simply “Feral.”

Having been doing a lot of Unknowns and Annotations recently, I find myself frustrated by observers calling something Captive/Cultivated early on, especially when new users are involved. Especially with so many communities telling people to stay home as much as possible, new iNat users are photographing their gardens, neighborhoods and local parks. To have their observations go to Casual before they’ve been identified must be frustrating. They’re looking for help but get shut down.

Would an intermediate status help? Well, it sure wouldn’t hurt.

I’m with you on the importance of accuracy in scientific enterprise. So, that’s where my vote will always be.

I don’t think that there is general agreement on that for this site, though. There seems to be a high value placed on user-friendliness.

I agree. I’ve proposed an additional option to annotations, and one to species lists that could allow more scientific accuracy while remaining user-friendly. Hopefuly these will gain more support.

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This field has been used for that purpose by staff, for example in this observation. There are decent arguments for calling all these anoles either wild or not wild. They can’t form populations because of the winter.

I’ve added a comment to this discussion, to the effect that escape is exactly the accurate term needed in this case. Now that I can find it by typing esca into the search field, I’ll use it.

I recently ran into the problem being discussed here on this observation. The bird is not only a common variety of Wood Duck for private collections, but has a color band and no metal (AKA federal in the US) band, indicating that it is from a private collection. It is difficult to say how long this bird has been here, but there is no debate over it’s origins. My main concern is that Wood Ducks do have some established populations throughout this region, so a datapoint like this duck would skew a view of their “established range”. It would appear as if Wood Ducks are also set up at this location, but in reality, there is just a lone and obviously escaped/released individual. It would be nice to have an option that actually indicates this bird is not wild-born, rather than just smacking a tag/observational value on it while leaving it marked as wild.