Easy way to mark multiple-species observations

There’s a lot of observations that have pics of ten different unrelated species in one obsv. It’d be nice to have a quick way to move these to ‘casual’ status, while also notifying the poster of the issue (and maybe even automatically show them to a detailed description of how to remove the excess pics or create new observations, since so many people seem to have trouble with that).

Oh, yes. I spend a lot of time browsing observations with no IDs, so I see a lot of these.


I agree. I think making the DQA the major part of the entire process of cleaning up all the common problems, automating notices of how to fix the common problems, and automatically having the problem observations revert to “casual” in the meantime is the way to go.


Can’t vote, can’t even heart the first post (what’s up with that?), so I’ll have to voice my support with a reply.


Why can we not just have a way of exploding multiple-species observations to their constituent species? Not for all curators, but for a subset of curators who understand the locality issues and other complications of doing this. And the need to add a curators comment requiring verification.

A lot of multiple-taxa observations are done by once-off or infrequent observers, or those who dont understand the system. These observations contain a lot of data, that although useless in one observation, can be quite useful individually.


I agree with Tony. I think each instance should be individually considered, if nothing else because some of these observations contain a mix of useful vs blurred/multispecies/etc shots. Otoh, wrt multispecies shots, one can often choose one identifiable species and go with that.

Alerting observers that a split was done is OK, but to me, active observers should have the opportunity/responsibility of splitting their own obs. I have by mistake added to a selected set in the upload area instead of creating a new set, and have uploaded a bunch of unrelated pix on the same record. I happily split them when someone alerts me.

Imo, it’s the ones who have been awol for years who need curator attention. I’ve recently seen some truly gorgeous sea pix that are fully IDable, but are multiples per obs, and the observers have been inactive since 2015 or so.

A data curation suggestion - when the obs are split, there should be a special ID # to indicate that they are children, and a reference back to the parent to retain traceability. If there is ever any question about whether the split was accurate, the original can be checked. It also makes tracking/generating stats easier - would be interesting to know how many otherwise useless obs become usable data through this.


No curation should ever be done without a fully explicit curation note of what, why and by whom.


I’ll just say there’s a lot of resistance among the iNat team (myself included, although I might be persuaded) for any tool that will allow a curator to edit an observation, as we consider observations to be owned by the observer.

Right now we suggest that in these cases, you should add an ID at the lowest taxonomic level which applies to all the photos, eg if there are five different species of plants in the photos, add an ID of Plants. If there’s a big mix, ID as Life. This will keep the photos out of any inappropriate taxon photo browser.

If you’d to use the DQA to address situations like these, do you have a proposed DQA category that can be voted either yes or no on?


But is this an edit?
It is really a special case of “explosion” of a bad observation into its valid constituent observations.
Quite honestly, if there is an observation of x taxa that becomes “Life” it may as well be deleted. It serves no purpose It is impossible to believe that this is what the user intended.
So long the the edit is in the spirit of iNaturalist, and properly documented, it is no worse than swapping identifications made by users from one scientific name, to a new one.

Neither the Highest taxonomic rank nor the DQA solve the problem. They merely designate it to the rubbish bin without deleting it.

IMHO there is too much emphasis on iNat on the expletive-deleted photo browser, and not enough on making useful identifications. (Just add a DQA option - “dont use in AI ID”, or alternatively allow the DQA for a picture - I believe there are already threads for these). That a single accidental (or deliberate) picture can consign a useful observation to the trashbin of “Life” or some higher taxonomic rank is a travesty. The average user is requesting an ID, not an evaluation of their observation against unknowable internal standards. I think the identification should be kept separate from the DQA.
((Although I have to accept iNats community standards, I dont have to like it))

There are issues though: the different species will be at different times and locations. But that is what the DQA (and locality accuracy) is for!

What sort of arguments might sway you to be persuaded?


I’d recommend some sort of catch-all option available only to curators as explained here: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/create-a-way-to-flag-duplicate-observations-and-remove-rg-status-from-the-extras/201/2

1 Like

I too would like to be able to ‘fix’ other peoples observations, but agree with the site philosophy that each observation is ‘owned’ by the observer.

I would love to see a tool that users could use to split observations, as trying to explain to new users how to use ‘copy’ or to edit, deselect/delete unwanted photos and re-upload them is problematic. But then it would probably need to be a sophisticated tool for new users to be able to use it successfully. I would envisage basically taking them back to an upload page, with all their images from the current observation already loaded, so they could have another go at combining or not photos and saving the observations.

But I realise that one problem there might be that if the metadata is stripped from photos when uploaded, there may not be any record of the location of those ‘extra’ photos. (would also be a problem if curators had this tool)

One ‘solution’ to getting the observations out of the ‘needs identification’ stream is to ID them to the lowest common taxon, then tick “No, it’s as good as it can be” for " Based on the evidence, can the Community ID still be confirmed or improved?" in data quality assesment (DQA) section. (not the intended function, but seems to work)



The problem being that if you’re the first ID’er, this has no effect. It only works if there is a commiunity ID, and that happens only if there are at least 2 people ID’ing.

See my feature request: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/make-no-its-as-good-as-it-can-be-take-effect-with-fewer-than-2-ids/115

1 Like

So this is probably restating some of what was said above, so consider yourselves “quoted” :-)

This is may be nitpicking the terms, but I’d suggest that an iNat “record” that includes multiple species in different pix isn’t “an” observation. It’s a bunch of observations all glued together. This is, maybe(?) where the term “observation” as in “something I saw in the field” flows into “observation” as in a record in iNat representing the thing I saw in the field. I would agree that the thought/concept/experience/whatever of the observer in the field belongs to them. I’m not as convinced wrt the iNat record, at least once the observer has left the community and is no longer able to curate their data.

As others have noted, the point of iNat (or at least one point) is to make useful information available. Multi-species records do not achieve this. So if it’s a choice between maintaining a (useless) original intact record and changing it with clear documentation and traceability back to the original, thereby making it potentially useful, I’m for the latter.

There are, as mentioned earlier, caveats. A record with poor or missing date and place will not be improved by splitting, so those are probably washouts. Observers who opted out of community ID require some thought. And multirecord observers who are still active (or have been active in the past, say, 2(?) years) should be encouraged to split but not forced. But once an observer has left, I think the observations are fair game. After all, they posted their info to contribute to the community.

I should note that I have spent over 30 years working in clinical research data, which is highly regulated and extremely conservative, so I make these statement with much careful thought and some trepidation lol.

And I’m also very wordy - sorry for the tomes!


it seems like doing that would result in a lot of bad spatial data as there’s no way of knowing if the extra photos were taken anywhere near where it’s mapped


That’s absolutely something to think about in the caveats. Perhaps there would need to be some judgement applied, looking at the pix in question and assessing the likelihood that they are or are not from the same place/time. I’ve seen some obs where they probably are, and some where they clearly aren’t. I know! We can convene a committee to debate each one! Just kidding :-) Perhaps this is where a notation in the DQA could help - assigning a level of reliability, sort of like “casual” - a “caveat emptor” as it were.

I just hate losing data!


If iNat somehow retained the original date-time stamps of each uploaded photo (and of course geotags when present), that could help with checking proximity of photos.

But if that hasn’t been retained for each photo, but just for one photo in the observation metadata, then that doesn’t help with all the existing multi-species observations.


Heh, I suppose anything that makes me believe the observer would not feel mistreated, or not in control of their content, and I’m not sure that’s possible. There would also have to be a solid way to vet someone who had this power. Regardless, you would have to convince a quorum of others on the iNat team as well, which I think would be difficult.

This is on the iNat team agenda for the coming year. But like you said, making said tool easy for new users is going to be a tough needle to thread, especially since they’ll likely have to use the website and most of these observations are made via the app.

And iNat does keep the metadata of photos in our database (eg https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/32371128), it’s just not in the photo itself. And in case you were wondering, that date/time/location data is not visible to the public for obscured/private observations.

While it wouldn’t fix any already-synced observations, my preference would be to try and prevent this from happening, as much as possible, in the first place. Maybe by having a pop-up if a new user adds photos taken x number of minutes apart, or a better walkthrough for new users.


Thanks for connecting those dots Tony, now I remember seeing that on photo pages, which I tend not to visit very often.

1 Like

This notion that the data becomes property of the public domain, especially once it has been “value added”, keeps cropping up. If it helps, I had an analogy presented to me of when you go to hospital when you are sick. If they find your liver is caput, they take it out. That liver is still yours, even though they healed you by taking it out! Yes, being able to chop it up and study it for the purpose of science is a noble intent, but you actually need the permission of the owner of the liver before you are allowed to do that!

1 Like

I think the notion of mentor accounts fits here, which I raised in regards to probationary periods on new accounts. If a new user, for instance, can optionally nominate a mentor that will then be able to have limited ability to make changes in their data, I see that as a way for those that are struggling with the interface to say “I can;t figure out how to do this, can you do it for me?”. The account holder themselves would set who they want to be mentor (if at all). I could see problems if well meaning persons were to put pressure on new users to have them made mentor so they could fix things… maybe it would create more problems than it fixes!