Annotating observations that include multiple individuals

I’ve read several other threads on this topic, and I understand it’s a contentious issue. But the particular case I’m interested in seems to be confounded by several policies that are difficult to reconcile.

The case in hand: we are studying a plant with separate male and female individuals, which may differ slightly in phenology and distribution. They also frequently grow close together, and many folks don’t realize this is a dioecious species at all.

We would like to annotate observations so we can track males and females separately. Observations often have both sexes present, as here:

According to policy, this is incorrect, as each of the plants should be its own observation.

As I understand it, only the observer can make a duplicate record to split the male and female plants. The sex annotation only includes male, female, and unknown, none of which are correct. This leaves only one correct resolution: requesting the poster split/clone their observation so I can annotate each plant separately.

That seems tedious, and maybe a bit off-putting to the original poster. It would add an extra layer to our efforts to annotate specimens, if we have to contact many observers and wait for a response before completing the task.

I understand there is reluctance to allow annotations that would admit multiple individuals are present in a single observation, but in a case like this it would be very useful to check both male and female for the observation.

On a related note, in plants there are species in which individuals can be single sex or hermaphrodite, and having a bisexual/hermaphrodite category would be useful. In this case, there are, very rarely, actual hermaphrodite Rubus chamaemorus (i.e., individuals with perfect/bisexual flowers), and it would be very interesting to find one of those.

My preference would be to allow multiple sex annotations for a single observation (and also to add a hermaphrodite category). But if that’s not permissible, what would be the recommended approach here?


One solution or workaround would be a similar project like the one I created for Multiple Life Stages.


I think you’ve laid out your options well. I will note that posting pictures of different individuals of a species in one observation is ok (I wouldn’t say it is incorrect per se), it can just cause some issues - one of which you’ve identified here.

There’s an existing and open discussion around annotations and potential issues here:
I believe that this issue (and/or similar) have been discussed to some extent (it’s a long thread…)


Yes, I’ve read some of that thread. But at 520 posts and counting, it’s a bit unwieldy to participate in that conversation! Hence the new thread.

This exact theme was also discussed, you can annotate any specimen that you see on all photos, choose one you like the most.

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Sure, but in this case I’d like to have the observation show up in both a list of male plants and a list of female plants. If I pick one or the other, I lose half the value.

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You lose everything if you annotate nothing, without duplication it’s not possible.

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You could download the observation data and duplicate the ones you want to annotate as both in that dataset.

Or you could start a project on the species and use journal posts to educate users about what you want them to record. Some will be interested, others not.

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If you go this route, it would probably be better to make a custom observation field, similar to the ones for multiple life stages (✓&q=multiple+life+stages&commit=Search) created by @ncb1221 - I don’t see any existing similar fields for multiple sexes.

That way, the time you invest can help improve the data for everyone - might save someone else the trouble of duplicating efforts. The observation fields aren’t nearly as user-friendly as annotations, but they accomplish the same thing.


The advantage of that thread is that it is monitored by staff and suggestions there may be used in future iterations of the annotation system.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope you will come back here and post it. I would also like to track sex in plants; if you decide, for example, to create a custom observation field, I would use yours, rather than creating yet another similar observation field.


I went ahead and created a traditional project for observations with Multiple Sexes

Feel free to join and add any and all relevant observations. Hopefully this can help out some people in their searches.

If only your approach was the norm…

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