Duplicate observations to track phenology

What’s the protocol for recording the same specimen at different times of the year? It is the same species, same specimen, at the same location, but with one small change such as flowering vs not flowering. Should I record the specimen again or make some edit to the original observation to capture the change?

For context, I am working on an invasive plant project, and one of my focal species is fairly understudied so I would like to collect/record information on the timing of the plant’s flowering and fruiting. I have found and reported specimens over the last several months, and I am now revisiting them and recording if they have started flowering. I think this info would be important to updating the phenology data for this species and informing management. So what’s the protocol here? Is it okay to record the same plant multiple times to track its flowering status over time?


Welcome to the forum!

It is fine to post the same individual organism as multiple observations if they are taken apart in time, especially if something like phenology has changed. The general rule of thumb is one observation/specific organism/day (but this might be a bit much if done everyday!)

Users should definitely not add multiple photos from different dates to the same observation in almost all cases - these should be separate observations. You can provide links to previous observations in notes or comments or use observation fields to give a linked observation as well.


Posting the observation of the same individual is fine, BUT… the information, that it was the same individual, will be lost, because database unfortunatelly doesn’t provide means to track individuals. @zoya_buckmire, I think you should at least add a link to the previous observation of the same individual to the comment field saying that it’s the same individual, so that this information isn’t lost.

Dear moderator @cthawley, please consider if iNaturalist could somehow track individual organisms… it wouldn’t be useful just for plants, but also for marked animals. I understand that the original purpose of the database is different, but this is worth considering. I know it would bring whole set of other issues to solve (who and how would validate if it was the same individual or not, would it be the first observer? With marks it would be easier… etc.)

And, another reason why the database somehow should allow to track individuals, is to provide those who will analyze the data (and make scientific papers) some means to avoid duplicates. Of course they will anyway have to do a heavy data cleansing and filtering, but this could facilitate it a lot. Especially when someone is intentionally putting duplicate observations of an individual into the db and would be motivated to declare so himself if iNaturalist provided some means to do so.

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Not directly, but you can provide links to the other observation(s) in your notes and/or use observation fields, e.g. same specimen over time or similar observation set.


I agree a more formal way to link multiple observations of the same individual would be beneficial, for observations from the same user over time, as well as from multiple people observing the same individual at the same time (or maybe relatedly, multiple species in the same photo). But yeah that functionality doesn’t exist at the moment outside of the informal observation fields that @spiphany mentioned.

Such linkage could be (and perhaps has been) a Feature Request for us to vote on.

Here’s the most similar feature request: Link observations - Feature Requests

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Thank you all for the responses! The “same specimen over time” field is exactly what I needed.

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