Comprehensiveness of conservation statuses on iNaturalist?

Late to the party here, but… it’s not at all clear to me what “species with a conservation status” means. It looks like iNaturalist is using kind of a haphazard patchwork of sources that, overall, have an inconsistent relationship with actual rarity or legal status among plants in the United States. For instance, locally we have two cacti that are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act but are not marked as having any conservation status, citing IUCN; a third similarly listed is marked as “endangered” citing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (which maintains the Endangered Species Act list). And we have a variety species that are obscured even though they are not rare or threatened under any coherent definition of those terms–e.g., Ferocactus wislizeni, Cornus canadensis, Enneapogon desvauxii. Should curators correct these kinds of errors? Is there a consistent iNaturalist definition of “conservation status” that could be applied globally, or is it just kind of up to the whim of individual curators to decide which source “counts” for a given taxon / place, when one source says it’s threatened / endangered and another doesn’t?

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Since this isn’t specifically related to the user-to-user trust feature and display of geoprivacy on observation detail pages, I moved it to a separate topic. Feel free to adjust the title.

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Staff would have to speak to whether there was ever an initial import of conservation statuses from major sources, like IUCN, NatureServe, CNPS for California, USFWS for U.S. and territories, etc. But in any case, I expect it has since evolved to be like much else on iNaturalist, up to the curators to maintain and improve as problems surface.

I agree, unless public knowledge specifically of iNaturalist locations poses a plausible conservation threat, G4 and G5 species like this shouldn’t be obscured. I think there is a pervasive misunderstanding related to (for example) S2 ==> “Critically Imperiled” ==> needs to be obscured. Things like NatureServe S and N ranks are artificial, politically defined kinds of pseudo-rarity, versus global measures like IUCN status or G ranks.

All l know of is the 3 paragraphs starting here in the Curator Guide. In particular, iNaturalist obscures the locations of all taxa with an IUCN equivalent status of Near Threatened or “worse” (with subsequent exceptions). What is often misunderstood, in my opinion, is that things like NatureServe S and N ranks, or even national or subnational Endangered listings, cannot convey “IUCN equivalent status” in any sense, because the latter is global while the former are political and artificial. Apples and oranges.

Short answer (in my opinion): yes. Longer answer: consider first why Ferocactus wislizeni, Cornus canadensis, or Enneapogon desvauxii might have been obscured in all their jurisdictions. The last two seem like no-brainers to unobscure. But maybe check first with any contacts you know in some of the affected jurisdictions, to make sure you aren’t missing anything. As examples, looking on the Status tabs on their taxon pages…

  • For the Cornus, I would be inclined to unobscure without consultation except in Ohio and California, where the existing status seems more deliberate and might merit a little discussion first.
  • For the Enneapogon, I would feel safe removing the U.S.-wide obscuration, but again would consult first on California (there are active iNatters in CNDDB there). Wouldn’t touch the status for Israel (bizarre as that one seems), but instead let folks there decide on that one.
  • For the Ferocactus, there’s always more angst with Cactaceae around the potential for poaching. Not that it’s hard to find such a large and common (G4) cactus without any help from iNaturalist. But it does have an IUCN designation greater than “Near Threatened,” which means it’s iNat policy to obscure unless it can be justified otherwise. So that one I would Flag for Curation, tag some appropriate interested contacts and curators into the comments, and see if there is a consensus before changing anything.
  • Final caveat - don’t touch Canadian statuses. There is a defined process for changing statuses there, outlined in the Curator Guide just below the link given above.
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I don’t think the site can use a single source. There are at least 2 separate use cases, global status is covered by much of IUCN, but there is also the issue of globally secure species that are regionally rare or at risk.

For example where I live in southern Ontario we are at the extreme northern edge of the range for many US species. We have untold species here which are numerous and secure further south in the US, but imperiled here.

If anything to my mind the issue is the site uses too few sources to protect at risk species. For example it is a major disappointment (honestly I would prefer a stronger word) that the site will not incorporate national Red Lists from Europe etc.

Please note this is not an endorsement of blanket obscuring, I strongly support obscuring when there is a demonstrated need, but I’m not convinced that is handled well on a regional basis at all

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Right, and we should have those statuses pop up on iNat for informational purposes, even though as JDMore points out they are somewhat arbitrary depending on how an edge of range intersects with a political boundary. However… most of these don’t need to be obscured, unless there is also an additional collection risk present (as with orchids, lots of herps, etc). otherwise you have a ring of obscuring around the edge of every species’ range, regardless of its abundance, which results in loss of ability to have fine scale range mapping, without any benefit (because the ‘rare’ species is super abundant 100 miles south or whatever).

Conservation status and need for auto obscure are a venn-diagram type thing where there’s a lot of overlap but some on each end that don’t.

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Just curious, has it been stated explicitly somewhere that this shall not happen? Or is it just being left up to curators to do it manually?

I agree that

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I raised the issue because only staff members can add the actual source to the drop down, and was told it would not be done. Theoretically a curator could do it manually, but they personally would be listed as the source. Even then, the response was basically to not do it due to indexing loads.

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Ah, got it, thanks. That’s unfortunate, since there are currently other random national-level sources available including, of course, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I see that there are even some sources for random U.S. state and Canadian provincial CDC/heritage programs, which should all probably be lumped under NatureServe.

Also I see that there is a seemingly generic Red Data Book source listed. I wonder if this could be used, generically, for European (and other) national statuses, with the appropriate country selected as the place?

The generic red book entry is not really helpful/relevant given the 2nd point to not do it directly to indexing concerns.

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In that case I think there should be a more public statement of policy from iNaturalist staff in that regard. (Or am I just missing it in the Curator Guide?) Otherwise, currently there is nothing preventing any curator from doing exactly this.

This was based on private communication with iNat staff.

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Briefly, curators can and should add conservation statuses. Most bulk imports happen when we bring on network members, and in Europe we only have Portugal. Bulk imports of statuses have to be extensively curated to match iNat’s taxonomy or they won’t work.

@cmcheatle I’ll dig into the source issue next week.

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Realistically the best option here is to figure out if the lists can be added so the data displays, but initially with all obscured set to open (assuming that does not contradict a status already entered).

Presumably it is the obscuring that creates the indexing issues.

Then when loaded, regionally aware users or curators can tackle the list and selectively update it to obscure the things that should be obscured. Not starting with a blanket obscuring, having gone through what we have in Canada, that would be the last thing I would advocate.

I think at a minimum showing the status of a species in as many jurisdictions as possible is critical to allow users to make more informed decisions if they want to obscure a record. Users outside North America should not be forced to try and remember the contents of their local red lists or equivalents to do this.

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