With plants, something is either planted, or it isn’t. There are gray areas, and of course it isn’t always easy to actually determine that something was planted, but there are really only two categories. If you want to see the distribution of where species X is reproducing you can do so, and if you want to see the distribution where species X is growing at all, you can also do so. (Or you should be able to, I think there’s some issues with the current filter options that don’t make this super easy). I don’t see there being much downside to marking even large planted trees as cultivated, the information is still available and easily obtained.
With animals I think the situation is quite different. Because they can move around, there is a distinct category in the middle:
- Captive animals
- Escaped or otherwise free-roaming animals
- Wild animals
There are certainly fuzzy borders in play here, but ultimately I think most people can agree on where almost any single case falls into this categorisation.
Some people are really only interested in category 3 and find it annoying when animals in category 2 are lumped in. They think the distinction between 2 and 3 is much more important than the distinction between 1 and 2. This is exemplified by much of the birding community – there are central organisations that decide when an introduced species is officially “established”, and until that point, those species are often ignored.
Other people, and I’d count myself as one of them, see the distinction between 1 and 2 as also very important. I find it very frustrating that escaped birds, or often even wild-born birds that aren’t “established”, get lumped in with all the pointless observations of zoo animals and pets. The number of Monk Parakeets people have in their living rooms is pretty much irrelevant to anything I’m interested in. The number of Monk Parakeets flying around the city is a lot more interesting, especially because it may imply that we are seeing or are going to start seeing observations in category 3.
The other important point here is that it is usually hard to tell whether something falls into 2 or 3. Ideally what we would like to do is, with any given animal, determine whether it was born in the wild or in captivity. But this is almost impossible. So instead what actually happens is that people use population-level judgements (e.g. are Monk Parakeets regularly breeding in this city?) to judge individual observations. This doesn’t sit well with me. There’s a risk of circular arguments (I don’t see any other wild Monk Parakeet observations, so I’m going to mark that this one isn’t wild). And it also just doesn’t feel like the kind of thing we should be doing at the level of individual observations. If Monk Parakeets are established in Chicago but not in Toronto, that’s useful information that iNaturalist can probably display somewhere. But I don’t think the way to display it is by going in and marking every Monk Parakeet from Toronto as captive (and then presumably going back and individually marking them all as wild again if someone determines that they are actually breeding?)
The problem is that there are many people who want to distinguish 1 from 2, and there are many people who want to distinguish 2 from 3. Both desires are legitimate, but there is no way to accommodate both in the current set-up with the binary “captive/cultivated” option.
I think ultimately what there should be is three categorisations for animals:
- Free-roaming, but potentially or certainly not “wild”
With probably some ability in the long-term to automatically classify certain species in certain areas into category 2 instead of 3. This option could hold most observations of free-roaming dogs and cats, where there isn’t a known wild population.
For plants (and fungi etc.), this extra option isn’t necessary from what I can see.