Identification Etiquette on iNaturalist - Wiki

Perhaps I can explain a bit.

At the moment, iNaturalist has 2,000,000 accounts who have posted observations. We’re closing in on 90,000,000 individual observations. Of those… guess how many people have posted identifications? 232,000. And that’s ANY identifications.

The top 50 identifiers on the site have, between us, published 16,000,000 identifications. That’s an average of 320,000 per person. Almost 20% of all observations published get identified by one of the top 50. And 60% of all observations get identified by someone in the top 500.

That means that anything slowing down the identification process, like stopping to write explanations every time, is going to result in many fewer identifications for other users.

Now, of those nearly 90m observations, only 54m are research grade. There are 34m that still need an ID of some kind. Of those 34m, 12m are at species level already, meaning they only need a confirming ID (if the given one is correct). The rest will all require a minimum of 2 IDs to get to research grade, and only if they happen to be spotted by people who know exactly what they are. Most likely they will need 3 or 4 IDs applied to send them into the right subcategories where the appropriate experts will see them.

So say it averages out to 3 IDs needed for each of those, that’s 102 MILLION identifications needed… done mostly by 500 unpaid volunteers.

It’s important to understand, we’re not in a hurry because we want to rush through and get millions of identifications to our names. We hurry because we know how frustrating it is for people to never get an identification, and we know that as fast as we’re going, new observations are arriving faster than we work. The pile is only growing bigger by the minute.

I think most of us would love to have the time to sit down and compose careful messages about our reasoning every single time, but it’s a huge tradeoff. If it takes me 15 seconds to do an ID, and 10 minutes to write out my reasoning, that’s 40 IDs that didn’t happen for other people.

All that said, there is a way you can get people to slow down and take more time…and that’s to start doing IDs, and take some of the pressure away! Pick a species you know well, or that’s easy to learn, and focus on it for a while - every ID you make means someone else can take a bit more time doing their own. If enough people become identifiers, we can eventually reach an equilibrium.

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Courtesy would be to try helping to ID. I see many of your observations are already at Research Grade.

You appear from your comments on your own obs to have knowledge to offer.
Try identifying, and see what the work flow is like from the other side.

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The way I see it, I’m happy if someone drops a different ID in one of my records if I’m not 100% sure of my ID, even if they don’t leave a comment. I can do my own homework to see if the ID is reasonable or not, and then query the IDer if I’m still uncertain of their ID. The burden is mine, not theirs, to get a correct ID on my record.

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Thank you for taking the time to research these numbers. I appreciate understanding the magnitude of the task we identifiers take on.

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No need to call them out, though.

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Okay … out out.
mm still haven’t IDed a single obs weeks later

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This is a FANTASTIC suggestion! “Be the change you want to see in the world”, and we could always use additional Identifiers!
@agileantechinus , if you haven’t tried it before, the Identify page is located here:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/identify

You can use the filters to set your area(s) of interest, geography, etc.

We’d love another pair of eyes an hands helping to clear the pile!

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I’ve run into a problem with my attempt to honor the observer’s intention in cases where the observer offers no identification on their observation or any direct explanation of what organism they were focusing on. When I’m identifying unknowns and am the first person to submit an identification, this isn’t too difficult. I do my best to interpret what the observer was focusing on, ID that, and then watch for notifications in case I made a mistake. If the observer’s intent is really vague, I’ll leave a comment instead of an ID.

The problem arises when someone else comes across the observation first and identifies the tree rather than the lichen or the flower rather than the pollinator. Of course, this is only an issue if, for example, the observer includes notes about a lichen survey in the observation fields or exclusively posts observations of pollinators.

If it seems clear to me that the current IDs don’t reflect the observer’s intended subject, should I add a conflicting ID? I would only consider doing this when, for example, an observer has added an observation to a pollinator project and the pollinator is in the middle of the frame or I notice that a well-camouflaged toad is sitting in the center of the photo when the current IDs are for the surrounding plant(s). In these cases, what should I do? I’ve recently been told by someone who knows a lot more about iNat than I do that I should default to keeping the original ID even if it doesn’t necessarily reflect the observer’s intent because otherwise the observation will get stuck in “State of matter Life.” What do you all think? I’ll adjust my IDs accordingly.

Also, how dependent should we be on getting direct confirmation on intended subject from the observer? In my experience, users who post unknowns tend to not respond to comments, especially if they use the mobile app. I’ll definitely start using comments more anyway so that at least I’ve explained what I’m doing, but it’s probably a good idea to have a protocol for these scenarios where observers are not going to provide any input.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. I’m trying to solve problems --not create them. Thanks in advance!

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Welcome to the Forum!

In those cases I usually just leave a comment, @ tagging the observer, asking them for which organism they wanted an ID. That also puts other identifiers on notice that this is a question that they should consider, and that may not be as clear as they thought. And by just leaving a question in a comment, I am not (yet) upsetting the apple cart on the current ID.

If the observer ends up not engaging further, then that’s on them, and the observation becomes fair game for whatever the identifiers decide ought to be the focus. At that point I’ll either agree/refine the existing ID, or just mark the observation reviewed, unfollow it, and move on.

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iNat says the observer decides what we are looking at.
Not the first identifier.

I check Disagreements in Africa every day. They are only ‘stuck there’ if no one choses to clear the problem children.

Sometimes it is homonyms - Erica - you meant the flower, not the spider.
Sometimes the observer has made it quite clear what This Obs is For - and that must be respected and supported.

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@jdmore and @dianastuder thank you so much for your responses --they both really help. I’ll keep taking these observations on a case-by-case basis. I will definitely be sure to use comments more and to do my best to support the observer’s intentions when I feel that it’s sufficiently clear what those intentions are. I really appreciate you both taking the time to help me out.

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The observer’s intent is the reason the observation is there in the first place.

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The user’s stated intentions should be followed, in cases where they’ve indicated something in the comments or with their initial identification. When there’s multiple possible organisms and its not clear which one they meant, I’ll usually try tagging them and asking, or checking their profile to see if they’re still active. If they’re inactive/not answering, then I won’t disagree with a valid community ID to try to change the focus to a different species.

Although sometimes if there’s a very blurry bug that’s never going to be identified beyond “Insecta” but the flower it’s on is identifiable, I’ll select the organism that is more identifiable. Or if the user uploaded multiple duplicates of the same photo and identified them all as the same thing, I might add IDs for the other organisms present in the duplications - with a note about it being a duplicate.

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Sadly, almost anything can and will be introduced these days…unregulated internet trade, “pet” insects, accidental trade introductions, etc. Anything goes.

I can’t possibly agree with this. This is just a number, but let’s say that National Geographic’s estimate of the number of species on earth, 8.7 million, is a good starting point.

How many naturalised species do we know of? A few thousand? Several thousand? Of these, most of them rarely occur outside their climatic zone (tropical, temperate, arctic).

How many species do humans deliberately or accidentally move? How many exotic species are you likely to encounter at a given locality?

In my area, we have recorded 811 exotic vascular plants that have become naturalised to the point that we consider them part of our flora (compared with 1,923 natives). This is approximately 0.207% of the estimated 391,000 species of vascular plants in the world.

It’s a far cry from “almost anything”.

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I was speaking of human behaviour and continued unregulated high rates of introductions…I find several new species a year, moving rapidly, and having impacts no one is paying to understand how the introduction may play out in 100 years because of lag periods.

Some areas are more heavily impacted than others, and certainly introduced invasive species have differing consequences…many don’t thrive at all, but the ones that do have massive evolutionary advantages in arriving without their evolved population checks. The rate of hybridization in seeding invasive species is very interesting.

Where I live some 30% of the plants are introduced species, and many animals also (which threaten the very fabric and identity of our forests).

More and more often I am running into wild (untended by machine or otherwise) areas (yes, mostly disturbed, but some not for 100 years or so) where there are no native species at all. I cannot believe that the cumulative “load” of introduced species, even innocuous sounding “naturalized” ones does not have a profound impact in ways we have yet to understand on local ecologies and habitats…in addition to the many other pressures humans create in terms of disturbing habitats. The difference is that introduced species have the endless opportunity to grow with a competitive advantage.
Studies have shown that plants realize their predators are absent and turn their energies towards more rapid reproduction and/or competing for space with plants that are defending against predation.

The number of introduced species within a particular ecoregion would be a more accurate way to look at this, especially since certain of the same species of invasive plants are popping up in many countries around the world.

There is massive internet trade in seeds, insects, fungi, mosses, etc. Yes, almost anything goes anywhere, except in a few countries who have decided they don’t want to be another of the worlds’ vacant lot ecologies…a jumble of competing species with no evolved niches or organization.

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7 posts were split to a new topic: Agreeing IDs on observations with no media

But it is 42% of the number of your native species. Or to put it another way, exotics make up 30% of your flora, the same percentage as stated by @marianwhit .

And I just had to follow the reply thread back to remember what this has to do with the topic of discussion: whether or not “out of range” is a valid reason to disagree with an ID. The gist of it seems to be that almost any species can show up anywhere, whether or not it succeeds in becoming established.

Question to ponder: you’re in a location where your only native crow is the American Crow. A vagrant or escaped New Caledonian Crow joins up with an existing crow flock. Can you identify it?

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Of course you can, they have completely different bills and huge eyes.

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But not if you don’t know they exist…this site has so profoundly taught me that I don’t know what I don’t know. I am much more careful about identifying for that reason. I think of the number of species of plants the average person will call a “dandelion” and it amazes me that this site does as well as it does. Heartfelt thanks to all who nurture and care for it!

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