Extant vs. Extinct Observations

So recently, while going through some observations on the app, I noticed someone had uploaded a jaw fossil for an extinct relative of the Alligator Snapping Turtle. Given that iNat’s species database only seems to include currently living species, the observation was left at the genus level.aside from that, I thought it made for an interesting and enlightening post regarding the evolutionary history of turtles.

Now since this was a fossilized specimen, it was flagged as lacking recent evidence of an organism, which is true. Though I feel like this observation wasn’t a waste of time. Seeing as iNat is a great way of recording data on wildlife, I gladly welcome something like this that can show some data pertaining to the natural history of a species as well. My question today is: while observations of long-extinct animals aren’t what iNat was made for, do you still think they have a place among those of the living?


They are allowed on the site for sure. They can’t reach research grade status, at least if properly marked in the DQA with the no recent evidence flag you note.

The iNat taxonomy does contain extinct things - https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/2713-Raphus-cucullatus

You should however note that no attempt has been made outside of a few areas to fully populate the species, so there is no guarantee something will be there.


I think @cmcheatle addressed the issue, but I was wondering if there is a specific fossil site for these types of finds. @danebury216 posts fossil insects in amber - perhaps he may know of such a website?


I think the question then becomes: should the taxonomy be updated to include more extinct organisms at a species level? Or should there be a different, more suitable place for uploading this data? We’re in a time when species once thought extinct are being rediscovered every now and then. So as always, taxonomy is an ever-changing thing.


The site has been pretty clear in the past that they are not a taxonomic reference, and as this is a niche use of the site, they will not allocate resources to trying to document every extinct taxa.

If someone adds them and a record, that is fine, but it is not a focus.


Thank you for clearing that up.


If you can identify the fossil, then add that, even in a comment. I’m just not sure iNat is the place for fossil taxonomists. However, I’m not an administrator, so I cannot answer that specifically. We seem to have a hard enough time with existing, living taxonomy.


Always feel free to flag the parent taxon (e.g. the genus, if a species is missing) for curation, and a curator can take a look.


I strongly believe all known recently extinct species should be added to the site and not be hidden by default. Removing species from sites like this when they go extinct adds to shifting baseline syndrome (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shifting_baseline): each generation has a more impoverished view of what biodiversity and healthy ecosystems look like. Extinct species should be clearly visible to remind us of what we’ve lost and what we may still lose. Out of sight, out of mind after all.

I, and I think many others, do use iNaturalist to explore taxonomy and learn about the diversity of life on Earth. Here iNaturalist has an opportunity to educate. I’d like the Proboscideans page to show us all of the ~20 modern species of elephants that our ecosystems evolved alongside with. That would give a far more complete and honest view of the state of nature and the nature of our ecosystems than just showing the three that happened not to be chopped up by our ancestors.

I added a lot of recently extinct mammals species some time ago but almost all of them are now inactive taxa: https://www.inaturalist.org/lists/922038-Extinct-mammals?page=3


Thank you. Should any such identification issue arise, I’ll be sure to do so.


In that respect, a way to at least pull up items with “no recent evidence” for viewing would be handy. There may not be a way to do that currently. (If you would like one maybe consider voting at https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/implement-more-filtering-tools-for-casual-grade-observations/8838 )

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I agree! Fossils are worthy of education merit and contribute to an area’s natural history. As other people have already mentioned, it is completely allowed. However, I do not think that a Casual-grade Observation equates to a “waste of time” - it just means it will not be accessible for researchers who access our observations through sites like GBIF or the ALA. That being said, there are some observations on the site of recently-extinct taxa that are research grade because the date observed and locality reflects when/where the remains were found or when/where the organism was last alive. This is more exact and genuine from people who upload observations of museum specimens, many of which are labeled with such info.

I think this is a valid point, though I think the primary purpose behind obscuring extinct taxa is to obscure nodes for long extinct taxa that would never benefit from a site like iNaturalist from a research or conservation perspective, such as non-avian dinosaurs.

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I even added extinct species to one of place lists with addition that they can’t be found. Isn’t that cool to see what was there at the last Ice Age? Well, we still leave in it, but you know what I mean.

I make a distinction between organisms that have gone extinct during the Holocene or Anthropocene versus those that have been extinct since the Pleistocene or earlier, in part because in the latter case entire genera or families in which those species occurred may also be extinct. To me, those taxa are a little far from what iNat was intended for and they likely don’t fit well within the taxonomic framework that has been created on the platform. Sure, you can post fossil records here but they may not be properly categorized and won’t be Research Grade.

Species that have been recently declared extinct might in reality still be extant, so those should definitely be included in the platform.


That seems sensible enough.

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