Are you a specialist or a generalist?

I’ve been contemplating this lately, and I’m hoping to see what others have to say:

I consider myself a generalist, favorable to all flying insects, but I am a specialist when it comes to flies, particularly Syrphidae. However, I have extended my reach to most other flies as well, so am I then a generalist of flies? It’s all very interesting wording and such.

What do you think of yourself as?

Follow-up question: when identifying, do you focus only on a certain taxon below a certain order? or do you filter all observations for a taxon above the rank of order (e.g. filtering only for Brachyceran Flies vs. filtering for all Pterygota)?

P.S. Wasn’t sure if this should go in #general or #nature-talk, so please move this if necessary.


This was an easy question for me! I am definitely a generalist, interested in everything I find.
As far as my identification of others posts, I am an absolute beginner. And working from an iPhone makes it harder. So far, I have made most “ids” from the unknown/state of matter pile. I have found that being that generic actually does help get a id .


Generalist, I try to id many groups, locally (Eastern Europe and parts of Asia I know something about) every taxon that I can id with certainty, globally id Pterygota as it’s an easy job to do. My main focus in life is birds, but once I realized it’s possible to get ids for other groups from photos alone, I try to learn pretty much everything that is not microscopic life, though I’m much better with animals vs. plants and fungi.


I’d like to think I’m a generalist through experience; I don’t possess any formal training (currently in college working on that) but through iNat, immersion and just researching online in general, I feel like I’ve gauged a better understanding of waterfowl and birds in general. I’m probably going to be a naturalist in training for the rest of my life but I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else.


Generalist in everything, but only an expert in a very tiny proportion of life’s diversity. I would get bored if I only focused on one thing.


I like the idea of being key-shaped.


Generalist but best at NZ Araneomorphae, expert at nothing (unless misidentification is a skill.)


I love that! Great post, thanks for the link.


Specialist…? 80% of my total IDs are plants and 28% of total are Penstemon (genus).


I’m afraid I’m a specialist, but by no means an expert. Not only do I focus on Noctuid moths, but I tend to focus on three tribes - Hadeninae, Noctuinae, and Heliothinae. I do a bit of bird work, but I’m not very competent. I will take photos of other life forms, but I concentrate my identification (which I like doing), on those three groups. There is always so much to learn!


Specialist doesn’t have to mean expert, certainly not in this context – you definitely sound like more of a specialist to me. Dabbling in other groups, as I do, doesn’t make me any less of a specialist in Diptera; I think, at least.


Haha, yes, for sure! (at least in my definition)


Yes, there is a difference between being experienced in a group, and being a taxonomic expert! I consider myself experienced.


Since I’m not the most experienced at plant and animal identification, I’ve found that I can be most useful on iNaturalist by choosing specific neglected species, learning to ID them, and then going through all IDs of that species to either put them into research grade or point out that they are misidentified. So far I’ve adopted a handful of species, and this keeps me plenty busy.


I’m more a specialist, with my current focus being on waterfowl. Although, I am extending my ID’s to songbirds and landfowl as well. My favourite observations to ID are those involving aberrant birds (hybrids, mutations, domestics, etc).

However, I am interested in learning about organisms that aren’t birds, such as fungi and arthropods. I find beetles fascinating and I want to understand them better in the future.

I’m a specialist how, but as my time on iNat grows, I’ll probably become more of a generalist.

I usually filter by the family Anatidae (waterfowl). When I’m ID’ing animals outside this group, I filter by species since I’m more familiar with individual species.


That sounds awesome! It would be cool if you made a journal post or something about what you do and shared it around so others can learn from you!


Very interesting, thank you for the details!

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I am definitely a specialist. Sticking to almost completely New Zealand birds.


I’m a specialist, but only in Humans.


Both (I think?). By far, most of my knowledge is centered around subtropical/tropical savanna habitats in the Southeastern US, Mexico, Central America, and the Antilles. Pretty much any forest or wetland is up there too. I simply just find them the most interesting. There is some degree of overlap in relation to ecology and species to a lesser extent so I have a good general knowledge of the plants in the region. I tend to only know species commonly found within this region, so I guess I specialize in the region? Pine dominated are the most interesting as well as section trifoliae as a whole.

The closest things I would come to specializing in would be Conifers, Saraceniaceae, Droseraceae, Orchididae, and Apocynaceae. Not necessarily what I see the most of but I spend the most time looking for. (Pinguciula, Magnolia, and Cactaceae are honerable mentions)

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