I’ve been using iNaturalist and related services for a while now, but have only recently become active in spending my free time identifying “unknown” observations in my area. I’ve noticed quite a few photos/observations that are close-ups of tree bark with lichen on them. I always go back and forth on whether the observer is interested in IDing the lichen or the tree. If it were me, a single close up photo of bark wouldn’t be the first/only thing I post in trying to ID a tree, so I’ve been IDing them as lichen (at the Class level, I’m not well-versed in my lichen).
I was just curious if others have come across similar observations, and how they approach them. Maybe all these people are interested in lichen and that’s great! As with a lot of “unknown” observations, these photos seem to come mainly from people who might be new to or unfamiliar with the site, so if I do leave comments asking what they hope to identify, they don’t always get answered. In these cases I’m not sure if it is more helpful to identify them as Common lichen or as the tree (which is clearly not always obvious from the bark alone).
It’s a good question. Your approach sounds reasonable. Identifying it and copy/pasting some standard text asking what the target is seems good as long as you keep an eye on your notifications and are willing to go back to change your ID if the OP comments that they were actually focusing on an organism that you didn’t identify.
It can also help if you check whether a user is experienced or new. I think that your approach is good for newer users. You could also have in your pasted text a recommendation to add coarse IDs, as many new users don’t know to do this, one of the main sources of unknowns.
If it is an experienced user, they may just be bulk uploading and intending to go back and add identifications later. I would probably just leave these alone (unless you know that they are always interested in a specific type of organism).
If the picture is centred on the lichen, and there are no other pictures - of leaves, flowers / fruit / cones, no wide view of the tree. Click lichen.
The observer can always comment … this is for the lizard in the background, then you withdraw / agree to the lizard. Those obs can also get trapped in Kingdom Disagreement, and need help. (Filter to your chosen Location)
Lichens and mosses are fascinating, but also tend to stay unidentified unless the observer knows just how to photograph the relevant ID features, which is not common. I think they tend to remain in unknown more often, just because some identifiers find it a bit pointless to add a kingdom-level ID when they know the photos aren’t sufficient to ever identify it further. I try to make myself ID them as far as they can go, and hit “cannot be improved”, but I do find myself skipping past them more often than I should.
I came across dozens of observations like that amongst unknowns I was identifying. From details on a couple of them it seemed to be for a class project. The observations had been made but there was no attempt at identification. They had sat there unknown for more than a year, so obviously the class was long over. It really wouldn’t matter whether you identified the tree or the lichen, as the observers hadn’t done any more observing since the class, so they really had no interest in either.
I see these a lot, too. Like others have said, if the stuff on bark is the only thing posted without accompanying other pictures or a note suggesting that the target is the tree, then I assume the stuff on the bark is the ID target. I will often add a note along the lines “ID for the moss/lichen/liverwort - if that was not the target, please let me know.” What I’m running into with some of these is that there are sometimes multiple species of moss AND lichen AND liverwort. I may try to pick the one I can ID best and/or ask the observer if they can clarify what they want to have ID’d in the picture.
I disagree - iNat best practice is to not ID to a level beyond what you’re confident about. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with just skipping stuff. I try to make an effort to ID them just because un-labelled things bug me, but honestly I find the observations that can’t ever be identified to a fine level to be incredibly boring.
I also ID a lot of unknowns, and generally ID to lichen (class lecanoromycetes) in that situation. If you haven’t found it already, there’s a list of boilerplate responses here, and I have got generally good responses from copy-pasting the explanation about why it’s important to add an ID.
you are allowed to skip. I will no longer ID - fish - dead - next! Nor wrestle with the Can’t See WHAT That Might Be.
To @jam07 yes I am interested in lichen. Once you start looking at them a whole range of new species to photo and ID, broadly is fine for me. And have found a local project which gives me 99 species to try and choose from.
Indeed. I skip a lot, sometimes because I don’t have my resources with me and feel I can probably narrow it down a bit more later, but often because I simply don’t know but think maybe I’ll eventually figure it out. Stuff I feel I won’t ever attempt to ID I will just mark ‘reviewed’ so I won’t see it again on my next round through the unknowns. This typically includes things with blurry blobs, obvious landscape/non-nature shots (e.g. rocks), opt-outs and casual with community IDs, etc.