First Recorded Observations - how to get my observations to research grade

Hello forum,
A lot of my observations are ‘firsts’ on iNaturalist. I’m researching tortoise beetles and I regularly have to ask our kind and hardworking curators if they would add an additional species to a taxa. Just this week alone curators have kindly added 5 new species to two different genera for me. Because of this, I am having very few people second my observations, and therefore I cannot get them to research grade. All my tortoise beetle observations so far have been personally verified by correspondence with the world’s leading expert on tortoise beetles (Professor Lech Borowiec). In addition, I have also included links to his website with my observations for verification purposes.
Here is my group:

Tortoise Beetles of Uganda · iNaturalist

Does anybody have any suggestions how I can get my observations up to research grade?

Many thanks,
Darren

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Unfortunately that’s one of the downsides of recording really rare taxa - it’s hard to find anyone with the qualifications to confirm them. But the “research grade” tag, while undeniably satisfying to receive, isn’t necessarily that meaningful in this context - your observations can all still be viewed and used by anyone who wants to.

However, one strategy that can be employed is to edit the observation descriptions to include a brief summary of the features that lead you to the species you identified it as, with a reference for the species description you’re using. This way someone who knows insect anatomy in general, but may not be as familiar with the exact species, can more quickly check through it to confirm. Somewhat like what this observer has done here: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/104495724

Don’t let the lack of RG status discourage you though - you’re posting some incredibly important observations, and they’re beautiful too!

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Thank you for your encouragement and advice. It’s appreciated. You are right… I didn’t think of adding all my notes (insect size, host plants, etc) to the observations, I’ve been recording that kind of information in a word document.
I’m a primary school teacher, but after doing my diploma in entomology (during the lockdown) I decided to accept a teaching job at an international school in Uganda, so I could spend my weekends somewhere warm on the equator building a collection and doing some research. It’s my dream come true. I originally set out to do ladybird beetles, but I instantly fell in love with the tortoise beetles! There are no id guides specifically for tortoise beetles here in East Africa, so I’m trying to put one together myself. Thanks again. Darren

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If someone says that it was verified by a scientist, or something similar, I always look up who they are referencing, what their field of work is, and if it matches, I will agree just to get it research grade. If it’s confirmed by a scientist, that usually means it’s on iNaturalist as a reference for others to use, not to be identified, so I always just agree to get it research grade so others can see it easier.

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Tortoise beetles are amazing! I’ve found one once, and as I went to take a photo of it…my camera froze, and it flew away. I’m still a little bit mad about it to this day.

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Moreover, your observations can be used to train the computer vision model. If you get enough observations of a particular species, it will be incorporated into the model regardless of whether or not the observations are Research Grade.

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Oh, that’s quite reassuring to know. Thanks for commenting.

Have you considered asking Lech Borowiec to create an iNaturalist account and add identifications to your observations on iNat?

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I did consider asking him, but I feel like I’ve already been a nuisance! I’ve emailed him twice this month for help with IDs already! That’s the problem with rarely recorded taxa. I don’t want to record anything wrong on iNaturalist, so I keep badgering the experts hahaha. Sadly, when tortoise beetles are kept and pinned for research, the majority lose all their beautiful colours and patterns, and it makes it hard to ID from the dried specimens available from the major collections.

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You wait.

It’s not unusual for species in areas where there aren’t a lot of observers, or where there are rare species, to go for many years with no user interaction. I’m ever slow slowly getting IDs on observations 7-8 years old of common, well known species, but I’m in an area with few users, so it’s a slow process even for well known species.

It helps to keep in mind that one of the primary purposes of iNat is to get non-scientists to more frequently and more deeply interact with nature. The research aspects of it and the observation ranking aspect are, in some ways, side benefits.

Don’t worry about whether your observations get to RG, treat iNat as a record you keep of your own observations, and appreciate it when someone else spends their time to interact with you observations. They are under no obligation to do so, and we should not feel offended or bothered if our observations don’t get frequent attention. Especially not if it’s observations of species that aren’t well known in areas with few users.

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iNat really needs all experts it can get, so if you already talk to him, it’d be easier for you to ask him to join, we have some beetle experts, but they’re busy with so many observations of them, tell him the work will be appreciated and it isn’t much different from what he already does, there’s no pushing and he can review as many or few observations as he wishes.

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I’ll send him a message and see what he says! :)

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Your situation isn’t unusual for people with an interest in less-studied taxa and parts of the world sparsely populated with smartphone-equipped observers. But as others have said, the RG distinction isn’t really as critical as it might seem. If you’re comfortable with the IDs you’re able to provide, don’t worry too much that no-one is yet able to confirm them.

The main practical effect of reaching RG is that the observation details are synced to GBIF and will then show up as a data point in their matches and searches. But just because many of your tortoise beetle observations are still showing as “needs ID” doesn’t prevent them from being used in research. If we imagine an entomologist who wants to use iNat data for research on Ugandan tortoise beetles, they’re probably going to start looking at your observations and adding their own IDs which will mean many of them reach research grade. Even if they don’t add any IDs, datasets they download for analysis can still include “needs id” observations. It’s entirely up to the researcher whether they want to limit their scope to RG observations, and for sparsely IDed taxa like these, that constraint would be quite limiting. Better to take all data and use other quality control measures (including to validate RG observations).

Even so, it’s certainly more satisfying to have RG confirmation of your IDs, and there are several ways to achieve that:

Time is the most certain! iNat continues to grow exponentially, and the fastest growth is occurring in formerly poorly represented countries, so it’s not unreasonable to expect other people with an interest in East African entomology to join the platform, contribute their own observations and ID some of yours.

You can also try to encourage specialists in your field of interest (e.g. Prof. Borowiec) to join the platform and add IDs directly. This does happen fairly often and iNat can be a rewarding source of data even for very experienced academics. Sometimes academics can get frustrated with some of iNat’s principles. I’d say some of the bigger challenges are:

  1. that iNat treats all identifiers equally, with no automatic distinction between a tenured entomology professor and a high-school student (likely to be hugely mitigated by the fact that very few users are IDing African Coleoptera),
  2. that computer vision can lead to wildly incorrect IDs at times (ultimately mitigated by adding correct IDs with a brief rationale, and by accumulating enough correctly identified observations of a taxon for computer vision to learn the distinction) and
  3. that iNat’s taxonomy may currently appear “incorrect” in some respects, which can be resolved by flagging the taxon for attention by users with curator status (you might want to request this yourself if you’re at the point where you can judge the research and assess the consensus on which taxa are valid).

Researchers are also very busy already, but most are interested in helping advance knowledge of their specialist field and many do find identifying iNat observations informative.

Lastly, I’d really encourage you to use your growing knowledge to contribute IDs to other people’s observations. I doubt there are many users adding IDs for insects in East Africa, and refining IDs on those observations as far as you can be confident would be a great help. There’s a good chance that will also lead to developing the knowledge of other iNat users who will eventually have the skill to ID your own observations.

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A couple of things that have not already been mentioned: the beetle taxonomist does not need to make observations to confirm an ID. I’ve run into a few folks who have no observations but lots of ID’s. Secondly, consider adding your identification criteria to either your journal or create a Wiki. That way other iNat users (especially ones in your area) can access the information. The journal route is a little tricky, but the Wiki less so. Here is my Wiki for a few Noctuid species as an example - https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/wiki-common-north-american-noctuid-moth-identification/10831
All of these moths are already identified, so you would have to include more information for new species, but it would contribute to the overall knowledge base.

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Thank you for such a considerate response. It is encouraging and very much appreciated to know that ‘research grade’ isn’t the only acceptable status for observations. I will definitely be emailing Professor Borowiec this weekend, as it won’t do any harm asking for feedback or support with iNat observations. It’s amazing that there are still so many species not represented on iNaturalist yet. I have already added 8 ‘firsts’ over the last three months, and I hope to continue for the rest of the year. The curators here are excellent and I have had no problems having my new taxa added to various genera. The only let down is my rubbish camera on my smartphone. I don’t feel I do justice with the photos - especially as they are currently the photos representing the first recording of the species!

All the best,
Darren

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Thank you. I will look into this and definitely try and add my notes each week after making my observations. Your notes and photos are very good quality. I really need to think about investing in a decent camera. I spend literally hours with my Huawei trying to zoom and focus, but the slightest movement distorts the images. In fact I spend more time photographing than I actually do in the field most Sundays. I would have liked to have looked at some moths over here to, but I didn’t bring a lot of my entomological kit to Africa. Only my butterfly and sweep nets and some collection/preparation stuff. My Coleopteran collection consists of a large plastic lunch box, some polystyrene from the school art project scraps, some pins and my loupe.

Thanks again,
Darren

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This type of agreeing is against the guidelines of iNaturalist, and identifiers should not engage in it. It can be tempting to get something to RG, but an identification needs to reflect an identifiers own expertise, not their perception of another’s expertise. If you can look up information provided by an observer or someone else and independently verify those characters/traits using sources, that’s one thing, but agreeing to a scientist’s ID to reach RG is not a good practice. As a scientist myself, I can vouch for the fact that scientists make plenty of mistakes, overlook things, etc.

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Yes, please don’t agree with an ID unless you can independently verify that it’s correct. It’s OK for an observation to not be at Research Grade.

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Sometimes I record things that are not very common (not “rare”, but not frequently observed) like my Auplopus architectus observation. I have had trouble getting this observation to RG, b/c there are so many precautions one must take to get the ID right. What I did was that I mentioned that the obs were verified by the both of them, mentioning their usernames on iNat and linking to their profiles. I also inadvertently tagged them as well, through mentioning their username , so that they could come and add an ID. I also mentioned the two things you need to look at, and said that both of these complied with my specimen.

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Tempted me to upload a tortoise beetle from 10 years ago. My tentative species does not even have a taxon photo. But I have tagged @beetledude

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