Add one (but only one) new Establishment Means category: Uncertain

Having investigated several taxon flags questioning whether “Introduced” or “Native” is the correct status in a given place, it is clear that there are cases where that binary question just can’t be answered with any certainty. There is conflicting information, and/or a long history of human transport (since European contact), such that neither of those choices is appropriate.

Currently the only choice available for these situations is “Unknown.” But this is the initial default value before anyone has evaluated any other options. And it virtually begs for someone (anyone, in the current system) to make the binary Introduced/Native decision for that place (“Endemic” being a special case of Native). In controversial cases it is apparent that there have been unintended and sometimes conflicting results as different users have tried to make these choices.

Some relevant examples:
https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/320182
https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/330169
https://www.inaturalist.org/listed_taxa/6152456
https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/343486

With the high visibility of these choices on observation and taxon pages, we need another option, and “Uncertain” is the best one-word label I can think of (in English).

Definition of Uncertain: after evaluation of existing information, it cannot be determined whether the taxon is native, introduced, or possibly both, within the boundaries of the place.

In short, with respect to Introduced vs. Native,

  • Unknown = not evaluated, or no information available.
  • Uncertain = we have information that either or both conditions could apply in this place.

Suggested functionality:

  • Any user can change an Establishment Means to “Uncertain.”
  • Only a Curator can change “Uncertain” establishment means to anything else. (the intent here being to encourage better sourcing and vetting of controversial establishment means designations, via discussion and comments in the checklist entries, etc.)
  • “Apply establishment means to descendant places” should not be available for “Uncertain.” (I can be persuaded otherwise. But my thinking is that there should first be an attempt to resolve the question for a lower-level place before “locking” it as Uncertain.)
  • Similar to the messages for Introduced taxa (symbol in pink)
    (!) Introduced in Nevada, US: Arrived in the region via anthropogenic means, or
    (!) Introduced in Nevada, US (Source List: Nevada Check List)
    There should be a message for Uncertain taxa (symbol in yellow)
    (?) May be Introduced and/or Native in Nevada, US (Source List: Nevada Check List)
  • It would also be nice if the place name in the message linked directly to the relevant checklist taxon entry, so we could just drop the extra “Source List” text.

Finally, I emphasized only one new category in the request title because we should probably keep it simple and not try to label every nuance and gray area we might think of. “Uncertain” can be a catch-all for those nuances, when Introduced or Native are not clear-cut.

Out here in the oceanic Pacific a native plant does not mean human transport was not involved. For these islands native refers to plants present prior to contact with European cultures, the dates for which vary greatly by island. Many native plants came in via anthropogenic means but prior to “western” contact. Introduced is applied to post “western” contact. Endemic is reserved to those plants which are considered to have arisen here prior to human habitation, these plants are not found elsewhere. This distinction tends to be important because our endemics are rare primarily as a result of the small size of the islands, while natives are often common across the Pacific.

As the native/introduced distinction varies with the timing of western contact, the dividing line differs for each island. These islands are not likely to have curators, many do not have resident iNaturalist users. Restricting the decision to move a taxon out of uncertain to curators could prove problematic.

The feature request is a good idea, just providing some things to consider for those of us who live in places such as Micronesia.

1 Like

Yes, and I edited my previous clumsy attempt at capturing that idea to be more direct.

Understood. “Uncertain” would not be the default, but would have to be a conscious choice by a user. My thinking is that once that choice is made, there should be some oversight and research (documented in comments) before that choice is undone again. Presumably for places without an iNaturalist presence, no one would be making that choice yet anyway.

1 Like

On further thought, I think this should not be part of the definition. But I would be curious to know if anyone thought it should be.

I believe current practice is to consider a species native to a place if it contains at least some native populations, even if it also contains introduced populations. For example, Even though Penstemon digitalis is considered introduced in New York and several other U.S. states, it is still considered native to the United States (Country) place.

EDIT: went ahead and removed this entirely from the definition and the request, for cleaner reading. There doesn’t seem to be any controversy about this.

1 Like