How to build your iNaturalist community

I’ll be giving an iNaturalist workshop soon, and one topic I’d like to include is how to build your own iNaturalist community. Most of us came into iNaturalist on our own, and over time we’ve come to know, trust, and depend on a group of iNat colleagues. That speeds up our identifications, helps us learn, and makes our own observations more valuable. So, what ways have you found to build that community? Starter ideas:

  • Ask (politely and not too often) for ID help from the top identifiers of a taxon.
  • Do some IDs for observations made near you at your favorite park or in your county.

Will be following the comments on this topic. Of great interest to me in the coming year.


build a friendly exchanges up, down and across - with people who you regard as more knowledgeable, your peers and people just starting out - little things matter almost more than big things :)
create local infrastructure - if you are an early adopter in your area, then local common organisms will be missing from iNaturalist - adding observations of the everyday easily observable organisms as well as the odd and unusual build knowledge of your area in the database and in your local iNaturalist peers.


Look for projects around you, who runs them, help those projects with id.


I started (here in South Africa) with @tonyrebelo.
I bring problem children for IDs - and give back by working thru obs around Cape Town.

Slowly, by checking in each day, following conversations, responding to notifications - I build a circle of people I trust to take that ID further.
@jurga_li is unfailingly helpful for lichens.

Give back what you can - and iNatters are mostly kind and helpful.
Discussion in the forums shows me what I didn’t know about iNat. Why do people DO that?! Since we all have different ways and needs here.


Make lots of good observations yourself. By that, I mean clear photos of easy-to-identify species (with a few harder species scattered here and there, of course). That gives identifiers something to work with. I am impatient, so I get frustrated when an observer posts lots of photos of far-off birds or shriveled and tattered brown leaves. That means you need to learn some of the species around you well enough to ID them yourself and thus to take identifiable photos. You don’t need to be an expert, mind you; you just need to know a little bit.

Related to that: learn as you go along here in iNat. I know I’m not an expert in anything, but I thought I knew something when I started using iNat a little over a year ago (I am a professional biologist, after all), but, boy, was I wrong. I have learned so much from making mistakes here on iNaturalist and then - and this is the important part - seeing what others had to say about my photos and learning from that.

Make observations in interesting or unusual places. I live in Massachusetts and while I take lots of iNaturalizing walks in ordinary woods, I also try to explore bogs and talus slopes and floodplain forests.

Follow good iNat observers who post observations from your area, of taxa you are interested in. Then, confirm their IDs when you can, but also look hard at what they are observing and where. You’ll probably find that local people you know of are already on iNat; definitely follow them.

Tell your real-life naturalist friends about iNat. Maybe only 10% of them will join and post very much (iNat isn’t for everyone), but the few that do - well, follow them and invite them on field trips.

Be patient and humble (I’m not good at either, alas, but I’m learning, I’m learning). That works both for cultivating an iNat community for yourself, but also for exploring the natural world.


Some hints that for me could be useful:

A) for beginners:

  1. post observations of WILD living beings;
  2. post observations where the organism is more or less identifiable;
  3. try to reply to questions, recommendations and other suggestions made by other users;
  4. join projects that are focused on the study of local biodiversity;
  5. use the site to organize field excursions with other users.

B) for expert users:

  1. try to be available towards the other users needs, in particular for observations ids;
  2. try to be as most scientific as possible (e.g. quote the latest literature, provide taxonomic keys, etc…), this could raise the attention by those users who could be interested in getting more insight into a particular group of living beings;
  3. if you can, try to curate a specific group of organisms in order to amelioate their knowledge in the community;
  4. create a project (and join some already existing) that are focused on the study of the local biodiversity;
  5. use the site to organize field excursions with other users.

So true!


These are great, and have been the main way I’ve built my small corps of naturalists. I’d add:

  • Search your region(s) of interest (county, state, bioregion, whatever)
  • Look at the top observers and identifiers. Take a look at their profiles… are they active in the area or gone? What are their areas of expertise, based on their activity? You can find a lot about a person from their iNat profile :D
  • If they are active, reach out with a message to introduce yourself. Naturalists are often islands in their community, and most of us enjoy connecting with others, regardless of level of expertise!
  • Check in on your region of interest regularly to see what people are posting. You can quickly discover who is active and where, people who are passing through on a road trip or vacation, new users making their first posts, people who are active observers or identifiers.
  • Learn new species as you see what people post and identify, check it against your guides to confirm, and be active in your area!
  • If you know (or learn) a genus to identify species reliably, search it in your region and start identifying. Be active!
  • Oh, and also, be active! Keep mental notes on the people you interact with, tag them when appropriate, puzzle through difficult identifications, be positive, and enjoy the process!
  • Don’t criticize or be overly zealous about the data purity. Encourage, assist, learn, be friendly!

The virtual community, or the real-life one?

Interesting question. I believe I mean both, and also how they intersect.

I didn’t have to try to meet people in person, it just happened. iNat is really popular in my area and it seems like most group hikers, park employees, and college staff use it. However they tend to use it at much lower volume than the people I interact with most on the website, so for me the virtual group and the real-life group seem seperate.

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I am very interested in this, as I am soon going to be involved in an active attempt to grow the Israeli iNat community.
There is a successful project in the north of the country, but even there it’s almost entirely individuals hearing about the project – it’s not really a community thing. That will hopefully change.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a large mass of observations or observers – or local identifiers – with whom I can interact. We just don’t have the critical mass necessary. Like 90% of new Observations and 95% of new identifications come from the same small group of dedicated users, none of whom live near me.

I do hope to learn from others’ recruiting experiences, and share what I learn.


In Russia we have a mass start when the project of Flora, leaded by main country university started, so if only a few knows about a successful project maybe try involving some proffesors and such, they have a big net of teachers and students and can involve them in work. What worked on me and my activity within non-participants is posts about how important that is and how others’ work can help, it helps when you spens another 10 mins describing how good the website is and why you should post there even if you know what you have on photo.
From my point of view Israel has a great potentional to grow a huge iNat community, hope we will see it next year!


This discussion seems to be taking a new direction, about how to recruit more people into iNaturalist (a community at large). But my original question was about tips for networking your own personal little iNaturalist community – how do you find and cultivate the people you’ll benefit from interacting with? The suggestions have been super. One that I particularly liked, simple but true, is to reply to comments on an observation and get a discussion going. I agree that I’ve found some great people that way. If they sound interesting or helpful, you can look at the person’s map of their observations, to understand where their home base is and what they might have in common with you.


I remember when I joined NatureWatchNZ, there was a handful of regular users and not a lot of us new users. I was made to feel welcome, and that my contribution, whatever it was, was valued. I try to do the same for new users coming on board, and I find that “community” just builds naturally.

I am somewhat vocal with my ideas and opinions, and consequently it is probably more effort for me to keep community, than it is to build it!


Pay it forward, yes.


I joined local projects, as others have mentioned. I really started using iNaturalist rigorously when I joined a month-long virtual bioblitz for my state. Through that effort I virtually met a lot of nature enthusiasts in my state. I actually messaged several of the members that lived close to me to see if they would like to meet up for a moth night. This led to me creating a project of my own and reaching out to lots of other people to have them join our effort. I have continued this through the last three years and formed close relationships with a great group in my immediate area.


Bioblitzes and for those who are able and inclined, meetups with other iNat users are great. Then there’s discussions here, on the ‘unofficial’ Discord server, which is i guess best described as a less formal and younger-skewed plantform. Also, discussions on iNat observations, journal posts, etc with other users with interest to form community. I also share iNat with non-users out in the naturalist world, but have reduced my rate of doing this because like anything else, trying to get other people to do it isn’t that effective, whereas living by example (since i am always iNatting anyhow) has gotten several of my friends and colleages interested in iNat including a few other power user types.


Botanists will be botanists forever :D