Are some observations more in need of IDing than others?

Opening disclaimer: I’m very new to iNaturalist, and there are many features of it and its culture I know nothing about. Feel free to point me at relevant help topics/guides/previous posts.

I consider myself a person who identifies plants (in real life, so far, not yet on iNat.) I have my here my shiny new iNaturalist account, and I think it could become something I’d be very “into,” but so far I’m overwhelmed. (A website/app for cataloging ALL THE LIFE ON EARTH? Woah.) I’ve been here a few days, and so far I’ve gotten the impression iNat has many, many more observations than identifications. I feel the urge to help, but… is there a “best” way to contribute my time/knowledge? Are there some plants that “need” identifying more than others? Perhaps they are of particular value to known research, or of particular interest to a large group of people, or…? We may be getting philosophical here, and I’m not trying to suggest some observations are “not worth it,” but what are some criteria I could use to choose which plant observations I should ID?

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i’d say do what you know and can do relatively quickly. I limit my plant ID to places I am familiar with the plants. you can also limit to genuses, limit to taxonomic level, or query for things without any coarse ID, which you can add coarse IDs to and hopefully someone else adds a better ID later.
Most importantly, do something you enjoy so you stick around and do lots of IDs :)

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Welcome to the forum and to the iNaturalist community!

It looks like you’re in Orange County. Here are plant observations in the county:

Nearby LA county has a lot more observations. Here are plant observations needing ID in that county:

Based on what I see in the queries above, it looks like your area (like a lot of others) could benefit from someone who can ID grasses and asters. But, really, if you can make a dent in any taxon or any place, I would just start with whatever interests you the most.

Besides charlie, it looks like graysquirrel and glmory do a lot of plant IDs in the area (see https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?iconic_taxa=Plantae&place_id=962&verifiable=any&view=identifiers). So you might ask them what they focus on and either help them with those or work on other taxa/places. You could also ask (local) scientists and researchers what they might need help IDing in iNaturalist.

Alternatively, if you’re good at teaching others how to identify certain taxa, then that might be another good use for your time. I started a thread (https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/help-me-identify-non-experts-welcome/2915) with the intent of teaching non-experts how to identify some straightforward taxa. Right now, it’s still an experiment in progress, but it might be of interest to you if you’d like to teach others.

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Yes, welcome and thank you! Your skills are definitely much in demand here. I’ll second everything that @charlie and @pisum suggested.

One of the cool things about iNaturalist is that every filter that you can create for taxa, geographic areas, etc., has a corresponding URL that you can bookmark (or save in a text file somewhere), and come back to repeatedly to see new observations in those categories, or to continue working through the existing ones.

Start with the filter URLs @pisum suggested above, then click the “Filters” button to see what additional parameters you can choose from. Just about any taxonomic group, geographic area, iNaturalist user, and other criteria can be specified and bookmarked.

Also, change any of those URLs to start
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/identify?...
and by adding “/identify” you get access to iNaturalist’s versatile Identify tool. Click on any of the resulting thumbnails to open the Identify window. Then click on the little keyboard icon at lower left to see the keyboard shortcuts that are available to help you breeze through a bunch of observations.

Find yourself needing additional filter options that don’t seem to be available? Check out https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/how-to-use-inaturalists-search-urls-wiki/63/81 for some additional URL parameters that you can insert manually.

But most of all, take your time, have fun, and don’t hesitate to ask more questions if anything isn’t working for you.

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Technically the site does actually have more identified records than those awaiting ID, especially if you exclude records that are ineligible to get to Research Grade, such as those with no photos. You also happen to have joined close to the City Nature Challenge which causes a huge influx of records. It is true the unidentified records seem more ‘in your face’ though.

EDIT - just to give the actual numbers, approximately 60% of the records on the site that can achieve Research Grade status have done so. Success rates vary wildly across different groups. Birds, mammals, reptiles, certain insects can approach 90%. Plants and fungi are much lower. The stats are currently also skewed by almost 1 million records coming in during the City Challenge, almost 800,000 have been added to the needs id pool in the last 10 days which has overwhelmed the available identifier pool.

You can get some idea of the numbers here https://www.inaturalist.org/stats

I will second what the others have said, which is that the one consistent way new identifiers seem to get in trouble is by taking on too broad a scope, trying to ID everything. Picking either a taxonomic or geographic area and gradually expanding outwards is a great approach.

Also, don’t he afraid to just refine an identification, if you see a record from Brazil you know is an orchid, but don’t know which species, enter the ID as orchid. It had 2 benefits, it helps any orchids expert find the record, and if someone does it to species,you get notified in your dashboard which increases your learning.

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I view observations as a stream moving past me, and I am trying to simply add value to each in terms of IDs and suggestions and tips for observing and so on. If I consider the whole of iNat observations, I am unable to hold ground and get swept away (overwhelmed), so I use the identify tool with filters to cut it back to what I can cope with. At present, it is New Zealand, and specifically spiders and moths. After I have reviewed the spider and moth observations, I take those filters off, and attempt to add value wherever I can on other observations. Where I have great confidence in the IDs of another member, I will support their IDs with “weight”, but only if their ID is not contested. To keep challenging myself, I often take those “weight” IDs and drill down into those taxa descriptions in the literature to learn how to ID them directly myself as well as a QC check to maintain confidence in their IDing! Sometimes, and I mean very rarely these days, I even get time to take off the NZ filter and look at stuff internationally… and if I wasn’t the only active member in my region, I would likely be looking at adding a regional filter too, because of the rate of growth in iNat over the 4 years since I started.

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Welcome! General perspective from someone who’s helped a lot with various community efforts online over many years: As a volunteer, do only the parts that you enjoy doing at that time. If the part you chose gets boring try out another part. If it starts to feel like just a job no matter what part you are doing. take a short break or even a longer one- meaning go off and help with some other project altogether. If you come back after a while, if it’s a solid ongoing project they will still be there to welcome back your help.

Take the size of iNat as a plus- you will likely find plenty of the things you enjoy. :)

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You are correct it was the City Challenge which gave me the impression there are too many possible things to ID. If it isn’t normally like this, maybe I shouldn’t worry. I see there are some very active plant people for my area, and I bet on a day-to-day basis they have everything covered.

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That bookmark tip is great. Already I was finding myself annoyed that I had to reset the filter to “plants only” every time I searched.

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Dont let the CNC or my feedback discourage you from pitching in. The other 51 weeks of the year, plants and fungi still have the lowest rates of successfully getting to an identified state, so any and all folks who are comfortable doing ID’s in those areas are always appreciated.

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I did previously read your discussion about teaching people to ID plants, and it has been on my mind a lot. I am interested in writting guides like that, in the future. I was orginally going pepper you with questions on that thread, but I decided too many of my questions were general and better asked elsewhere.

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More questions:

How certain do you feel you need to be before putting down an ID? Using photographs is never anything like having the live plant, especially if the observer didn’t know what parts to photograph. With the City Nature project in particular, I am seeing a lot of single, not-very-informative photos. Should I ID these with the plant they are most likely to be, just based on the relative abundances of plants which grow in the area? Or is that frowned upon? I notice once I suggest an ID, people seem to automatically hit agree (which they probably shouldn’t do,) so I almost hate to start something on so little evidence.

As a person who cultivates plants for a living, it hurts my soul that flagging otherwise quality observations as “cultivated” boots them into same trash pile as “no photo” and “no location.” I have first-hand experience with the volume of research conducted on cultivated collections, so it seems unjust. I recognize iNat’s mission is to use wild plants only, but I would really like to share native plants in cultivation. Is there another app for that?

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The official site guidance on your first question is here : https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/help#identification

Basically, you should only ID to a level you are confident can be done based on the evidence provided. So if you know it is a Carex, and know that Carex x is the most common in that area, but the documentation does not support the species ID, do it at genus (or section is appropriate etc).

The guidance is to not agree just for the sake of agreeing, but you’re not going to stop that behaviour, so it validates the importance of only going as far down the taxa hierarchy as you are confident in for your ID’s.

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As a generalist, i filter on “Unknown” and pick a date (right now it’s 27Apr2019), a CNC date, and look at everything that comes up. My goal is to try for genus, but I’m quite happy with family. And even Angiospermae, altho I suspect that’s only slightly more helpful than Unknown lol. The lovely thing about CNC observations is that many people race to upload as much as possible, and don’t stop to ID at the time or go back later, so there are many really obvious IDs to be made - high satisfaction ratio! Going across all phylla keeps it interesting, and it’s pretty easy to ID a spider as a spider! And with hundreds of thousands of recorda remaining, i’m sure i won’t run out of things to do.

And as others have said, remember to have fun!

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Coarse IDs are very helpful. They make it so that the experts and specialists can find their taxa.

Cultivated plants aren’t put in a waste bin. That being said I kinda do wish there were a parallel place to map and track things you planted. Cornell has a map my yard thing which did some of that but it lost funding recently :(

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For every Angiospermae I mark, I think of it as, “The amphibia/herpetology etc people won’t have to worry that they’ve missed one here.”

…I’ve been doing unknowns from the oldest, so I’ll meet you in the middle eventually. ;)

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Welcome!

As others have said, there are many valuable ways to contribute. I’m concerned about invasive plants, and one thing that has been really helpful is the work a few volunteers have put into sorting out all of the ligustrums found in my area. Many were misidentified. For example, we have found that every identification of wax-leaf ligustrum, also known as Japanese privet, in the wild in our area has turned out to be a glossy privet instead. Maybe that isn’t the case elsewhere, but knowing that is the case here has helped me develop better strategies for bringing these invasives under control in my neighborhood.

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I couldn’t figure out how to filter for “Unknown.” Or at least, not perfectly. If I type Uknown" in the Description / Tags box, I still get some results with names on them.

By the way, that was a great set of links, pisum. Thank you.

I know how to do it in the desktop app (it’s the last of the “generic” choices - birds, plants, etc.), but i’ve never worked out how to do it on the phone. My experience is the same as urs - typing in “unknown” doesn’t work. @tiwane, can you enlighten us?