Geographically Limited Searches

Is there any way to search within an area with custom borders that is not a screen-shaped rectangle or a political division? Specifically, I would like to create search areas based on climate or ecology, which can be impossible to do using political borders or boxes. For instance, would there be a way to limit a search to only the Appalachians or the coastal plain? There doesn’t seem to be, but I thought it was worth asking more knowledgeable users anyway. The only way I can see now to approximate such a search with very large numbers of results would be to create a series of bounded searches and combine totals, which would be time consuming and error-prone. Thanks!

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If a place already exists, you can use it search. Here are observations from the US coastal plain: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=111363
Here is an Appalachians place: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=124637

You can use the search bar to try and find other such places that already exist. If they don’t already exist, you can always create the place yourself, although there is a limit to how large of a place users can upload.

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You can also modify the URL to search in multiple places at once. Here are all observation from Georgia and the Carolinas: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=23,30,43

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And just so you know @blocky, the place_id numbers in the above examples can be found by using the Filters button on the Explore or Identify screens, then clicking More Filters near bottom, then starting to type a name into the Place box. (Caution: do not use the Location box above the filters, and make sure it is clear and blank - Locations are different than Places, oddly enough, and don’t work as well for searches.)

If what you are looking for comes up as a Place, select it and then you will see your browser address change to include place_id=XXXX, giving you the number for future use. If you plan to search that place a lot, you can set the Place (and any other Filter options) just as you like, then bookmark the resulting page in your browser for future use.

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Thanks for the recommendations. Regions don’t come up in the “location” search box, so I was under the impression such searches could not be done. I hadn’t thought to try the “place” field in advanced search. Searching multiple places will be useful as well.

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Yeah, the Locations box accesses Google places instead of internal iNat places, and searches them with a bounding box instead of exact boundaries. So they are much less helpful for search needs, though sometimes more helpful for finding/saying your location for an observation.

The multiple location trick would be more useful if I could figure out how to combine it with additional parameters (research grade only, since 2010 only, etc.) The URL didn’t work when there was more tacked on after the place ID codes. I figure there should be a way to get it to work.

Seems to be working now, so never mind. Thanks!

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Glad it’s working for you! You might find this forum topic useful also, as there are many other “manual” URL adjustments possible that are not available in the standard filters.

I just noticed @reuvenm mentioned the possibility of creating my own region. I’m having trouble finding the right regions to combine to get the areas I’m looking for. How would I go about doing that?

You would start at https://www.inaturalist.org/places/new and upload a KML of the boundary. Note that very complex boundaries or large areas have to be added by staff (via help@inaturalist.org), but you can try it yourself first. Some recommendations:

  • be sure you have thoroughly searched for potential existing places that would serve your needs first. We already have a lot of duplicates or near-duplicates on the site.
  • if there are similarly named places already in iNat, make sure the name you use is distinctive and descriptive enough that other users won’t confuse it with something else.
  • choose the Parent place carefully, as this can affect how some place-based changes propagate through the system. Ideally it should be the smallest existing place that completely encloses your new place, and one that seems likely to be stable. For example, when I created this place, it was about 75% in California and 25% in Nevada, straddling two counties in each state. Southwestern United States was one parent I considered, but Great Basin Desert was smaller, still inclusive, and seemed likely not to be changed much, so that’s what I went with.
  • Simplify your polygon geometry as much as you can, to avoid the aforementioned size limits. The current guidance is for
    KML of the place boundary. You can make one using Google Maps, Google Earth, or most GIS applications. Must have at least one polygon be under 1 MB (5 MB for site curators), and have an area smaller than the US state of Texas.
    If you are going for bigger, you will need to contact staff.
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I’ve looked through places more, and I think I should create an area. It took me a while, but I found something that should work within the required parameters. Fortunately, I already mapped the underlying data a couple years ago for unrelated reasons, so the polygon was easy to make. One potential issue is that the best parent region (Northeastern United States) does not nearly extend to Delaware Bay in places, so I’m worried it may be an issue if a region including southern New Jersey get cut off slightly. Should I choose a larger parent, edit the region to fix the issue (is that possible?), or just cut off my own region? Also, is there a way to search for daughter regions of a given region? I can’t find a systematic way to go through them. Thanks again for all the help; I hope I’m not imposing too much. This has been very helpful.

No problem!

Editing an existing region can only be done by site curators, and is generally not done just to accommodate a new place. So its up to you whether to change your own region or choose a larger parent. If your region’s exact boundary is important, then I would just pick a larger parent.

Unfortunately not. One can sort of get at that information by picking a few observations scattered around the parent region, opening their detail pages, and seeing what other places are listed for them. But this will include all overlapping places, not just designated child places, and will also include larger as well as smaller places. So would just give you a very rough idea.

I’ve made the regions I needed! (I had to split the area to keep the number of observations below the limit, whatever it is.) I do have one last question, though. My regions currently show only those observations that have been added or identified since I created the regions. I assume all observations will eventually be filled in. How long does this tend to take for relatively large areas?

Looks like it worked. Thanks so much for your help! This is very valuable.

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=142614,142613,125308,333,3049,674,51&taxon_id=47157

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Yes, as you discovered, there is some lag time while existing observations are re-indexed against new places. Glad you were able to get the functionality you needed, and thanks for posting the final result!