Advice for using iNaturalist Data


I’m not sure anyone else has mentioned this, but I’m wondering about scientific research based upon observations. For example, I am helping to track the rare plants at a nature preserve. We chose iNaturalist to move away from hand-drawn maps, CDs in offices, and GPS files on random crashing hard drives. A staff member left the preserve, and I now worry that they could delete their account and we’d loose the observations. Same thing goes for scientists using iNat. I know that folks at Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas are tracking rare plants using iNaturalist. They risk loosing data. If they publish, how will anyone be able to cross check their data. If iNaturalist is seen as social media akin to Facebook, erasing all traces makes complete sense. If iNautralist is seen as citizen science, erasing all trace violates basic tenet of scientific advancement. I vote for anonymizing; not deleting.


Dealing with Account Deletion

just thinking out loud.

  1. i suppose you could ask folks to use “work” accounts rather than “personal” accounts to record “work” data, and then you could ask them to turn over ownership of the work account once their work tenure is up. that doesn’t prevent a malicious actor from deleting data before turning over work accounts. (or if a person dies or becomes incapacitated before you can get access to the account, then i don’t know how you would get control over the account.) it’s probably too much of an ask to have iNaturalist develop organizational management capabilities.
  2. you mentioned “publish”, and it might be interesting if people considering publishing something based on specific iNat data could come and flag the source observations and put a reference to the (pending) publications. maybe as part of that process, you could even request that observers keep the data out there indefinitely or for x number of years, and if they agree, the data gets “published” and cannot be deleted or something like that…


it would also be wise for anyone publishing based on iNat to download a table of the data they are using, it won’t have the photos but can have other relevant info. And msotly one would need to do this anyway to use the data for any form of statistical analysis or to load it into a GIS program.



I agree with @charlie–anyone using the data can/should download the dataset with relevant fields (it comes as a compressed CSV files) and they will have an unalterable dataset (in case of user account deletion).

A few issues like the observation URL, image, etc. would eventually possibly lead to a 404 error page if accessed through the downloaded file (only relating to a users with deleted accounts whose observations were included in the dataset).