How iNat Treats Multiple Conservation Statuses for a Single Place (eg, Breeding, Nonbreeding)

Some conservation authorities such as NatureServe provide more than one status for a taxon for a specific location. For instance, Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) have two conservation statuses on iNat for the state of Massachusetts:
Critically imperiled (S1B) for breeding and
Secure (S5N) for nonbreeding
which come from NatureServe

However, many migratory organisms other than birds can have multiple statuses like this (e.g. insects, bats, cetaceans, fish, etc.)

These statuses can lead to confusion because they may be very divergent, for instance, showing a species to be critically endangered where it is in most senses not. This is the case for the Ring-billed Gull in Mass which displays on iNat as critically imperiled.

However, this violates common sense for many users (it’s the 3rd most commonly observed Larus in Mass) as well as contradicting other sources (eg, Ring-billed Gull is not on the Mass State List of Endangered/Threatened Species). Additionally, these multiple statuses are not always entered/displayed or included consistently.

This all can lead to a fair bit of confusion for users (multiple taxon flags on iNat including the one that spurred this post, as well as previous forum posts, eg: 1, 2, and 3 [which is also about Ring-billed Gulls!]).

My question is: Are there any ways that we can improve this situation and make the statuses easier for users to interpret/understand?

Some starting ideas could include:

  • Entering breeding and nonbreeding statuses separately
  • Only entering one (or the other)
  • Somehow prioritizing one (like the most/least severe)
  • Providing guidance about how to enter multi-status entries in the guidelines to at least standardize this
  • Changing the popup display on the observation page to show more info on multistatuses
  • Others???

NB: This post sprang from discussions on a taxon flag on Ring-billed Gull. Thanks to other users and especially @maxkirsch who gave a lot of great info there, some of which I have used in this post. I looked for other posts about this on the forum, but didn’t find much other than the confusion examples linked above.


[Note: the original flag on L. delawarensis for Mass has already been resloved.]

There’s a few issues here. Most of them occur because they are different organizations presenting information in different ways and they don’t necessarily sync up 1-to-1. That’s not necessarily an issue; it’s more that you need to be aware of how one organization presents something and why, and how another organization presents it differently and why. In this case, NatureServe provides a more detailed description, whereas iNaturalist doesn’t.

  1. iNaturalist is not ranking/evaluating species for their imperilment/conservation status. They are just sharing the conservation status from reputable organizations that do conservation ranking (IUCN, NatureServe); i.e. value added.

  2. iNaturalist does not currently employ a way to have temporal statuses or geoprivacy, or geoprivacy based on the biological/ecological sensitivity of the observation. For example, eBird’s sensitive species list has a temporal time frame for nesting sensitive birds (see Accipiter atricapillus). NatureServe conservation ranks allow statuses for Breeding, Non-breeding, and/or Migration or conservation statues with none of these qualifiers. I think most would agree that specific nest sites for imperiled species should be considered differently than fly-over birds on migration.

Typically when I add NatureServe conservation statuses to iNat taxa (one of the primary reasons I volunteered to be a curator) and the statuses have the qualifier of Breeding or Non-breeding, I actually add that in specifically as a text description so that it is clear what those codes mean (and maybe avoids a flag like this - it’s just education and understanding). So in the case of L. delawarensis and Massachusetts, I added the following text description that explains S1B,S5N: Secure Non-breeding, Critically Imperiled Breeding (only 1 known nesting attempt in the state; MassAudubon). My annotation also added the logical, explanatory note from MassAudubon (

  1. The nomenclature (Threatened, Endangered, Critical, Rare, etc, etc) are not defined the same between organizations or agencies. The biggest issue I’ve noticed on iNaturalist revolves around iNat syncing up to the IUCN equivalent conservation status codes ( IUCN uses terminology Critically Endangered, Endangered, Near Threatened. At least in the United States, terms like Endangered and Threatened relate to legally listed statuses (Federal, State), but these are not necessarily congruent with IUCN’s terminology. One is a legal and often political process, whereas the other is an independent organization separating itself from political pressure (hopefully) and providing an unbiased assessment (and likely at a different scale). NatureServe also provides unbiased assessments (non-political?) and conservation statuses, and many of them feed into the IUCN statuses (same kind of ranking scheme), but NatureServe does not use those buzz words; instead Critically Imperiled, Imperiled, Vulnerable, Apparently Secure, Secure ( They cross-walk to IUCN (see wiki page previously linked), but the nomenclature is slightly different, and personally, I feel less confusing (but IUCN is global as is iNaturalist, and NatureServe is North America).

Unfortunately I don’t know how iNaturalits could improve the statuses in relation to geoprivacy concerns or the type of detection (e.g. observation of a nest site versus a fly-over), though I would think that there could be temporal functionality. I’m a biologist, not a computer programmer. I also believe that users on iNat should not automatically assume that they know what a status code means and should educate themselves by looking up the definition. Though as I stated, it’s easy to confuse IUCN codes with legal/political statuses.



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