If a feather you find is 6 months old when you find it you put it on inat is how does this help science?

So I found some Great Horned Owls feathers in an old barn-https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/119472813, if you dont know how old they are they could be 6 month old or older and that would mean the owl was there 6 months ago. How does that help science when the owl was not there at the time of the observation/photo?

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It tells us that the owl probably inhabited the area some time during the year (assuming the feathers weren’t placed there by another organism, or a weather eventd, or perhaps aliens.) This may be of use to someone. In general knowing something vague is still more useful that not knowing something at all.

I would add that just because the iNat observation model uses location and time as its basis, that doesn’t make it the only way to do ‘science’.

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iNat observations don’t really need to be “useful” for science, but yes, it shows that bird was there, and you have a spot that scientists can use.

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The others have covered it, but I suggest a thought problem: What if it was 6 minutes old? What if it was 6 million years old?

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A good picture of the feather could improve the library photo of owl feathers, and helps other to recognize how an owl feather looks like

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As a scientist, you never know when information might be useful. In this case, the data contributes to both range data (where was the bird?) and frequency (how many people are reporting this species in 2022 or in the current decade?). A lack of information can be critical. One plant was collected in the 1940s “east of” the town where I live; it is known from only six sites in the state, but this site can’t be located because it is too general; perhaps the large lake built it that direction in the 1950s inundated the site! Once, I found a rare plant site based on scientific collections. Most specimens gave only a general location (enough to relocate the site and make sure there were not two locations), and one recorded “13 plants.” I found eight specimens in herbaria! Had scientists collected 8 of 13 plants??? I visited the site in about 1992, and don’t recall the number but I found quite a few plants. I climbed a nearby bluff and while risking my life alone on slippery ground above a 40-80 foot drop, found a few hundred more at that time. I revisited the riverside site this year and found a large colony of more than 50 streamside. At age 70, I’m not climbing the bluff along again! My point? You never know when your data might be useful to someone 200 years from now. Bald eagles and brown bears were nearly wiped out in Arkansas in the mid-20th century. Inaturalist data is helping to document the range expansion. Will the owls be wiped out by some chemical like DDT in the future? Very possible. How would a person know where to reintroduce them without historic data like found on this website? I document a few common prairie species new my home because I want to show their range as of the 2020s. That data might be useful in human activities limit the extent of prairie in the future; we’ve gone from “grass up to the horses bellies” in 1812 in most of the county, to mostly forest now (based on fire suppression). Urbanization could wipe out many sites, so having data, sometimes any kind of data, really helps!

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The same would apply to iNat records of skeletal remains, skulls, tracks that might be rather old, abandoned bird nests, old beaver dams, etc. All of these indicate former (days to years ago) presence of an individual of that species but they do provide evidence of species occurrence at that location. So there is scientific value in such a record even if it’s merely a dot on a range map.

I posted a photo of an old beaver skull for a location where beavers do not appear to be currently present. But that record shows they were there, perhaps some years ago, and could be there again.

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I’m hunting for a plant right now where the only site description on the herbarium sheet is “Pond near Olema, 1910.” I know where Olema is, but I don’t know what “near” means - 1 mile? 5? 15? Was it a stock watering pond that might not even exist anymore? Or a pool in the wetlands? Who knows.

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Doesn’t matter, it’s useful either way. With vastly different times you’re asking different (but related) questions.

The older date tells us about the evolutionary history (there may be differences in the feather structure or coloration, and yes, you can glean some color information from fossil feathers), the range of the species at the time, what type of environment it frequented in the past, etc. All useful things.

The current time tells us about what’s happening right now.

Taken together they paint a broader picture and help to understand the species better.

@graysquirrel - Olema. As in Olema in West Marin? Lots of little ponds in the area, including many old stock ponds. We used to go swimming in them when I was little.

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Yes indeed!
This is what I’m trying to track down: https://webapps.cspace.berkeley.edu/ucjeps/imageserver/blobs/aca57e47-7c30-4490-872a/derivatives/OriginalJpeg/content

It’s a perennial, aquatic, carnivorous plant - can’t get much cooler than that!
That record is the only report I’ve found of the species in Marin, and I’d love to learn it’s still out there.

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My bet would be the Olema Marsh (parking area by Whitehouse Pool), or maybe where the little creek that flows from the Bear Valley entry area down to Olema creek meet. Olema Marsh is a better bet though.

In my experience Utricularia vulgaris likes shallow, still or very slow moving water with a soft, muddy bottom rich in organic matter. It’s also somewhat sensitive to disturbance. I’ve seen entire stands of it vanish after what seemed to be a relatively minor change in its habitat.

Page 18 of John Howell’s 1949 book Marin Flora: Manual of the Flowering Plants and Ferns of Marin County mentions it being found in that area.

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The observation is also important because it shows the barn is part of the owl’s habitat. I don’t know about great horned owls as I am in Britain. But if it was bat droppings in Britain, the barn would get protected as a bat roost, or at least would get surveyed to see if it is still a bat roost.

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@jhbratton It was resolved in the observation was killed(How??) so there would be no point. And there are hardly ever people there during the winter and most of the farm is just let go wild.
Thank you all for you input!

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I think the value of the of these kinds of observations has been covered well enough. However, as @marina_gorbunova says, observations do not have to have scientific value. The primary focus of the site/group is to get people interested in the non-human world, in whatever form the observation may take. Any scientific value is secondary to this purpose.
As I mainly identify rather than post observations, I keep the science value in my mind a lot. However, this is my choice about how to use the platform. Others take a different approach, and that’s fine with me! There is very little that is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ with an observation.

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Just to add my 5 cents - feathers are so frequently observed that there’s even a value “Feather” for the annotation “Evidence of presence”. Many scientists analyze iNat data computationally and they can check this value in their algorithm and factor it in - in this case, by not including the date of observation in their phenology analysis for example but they can still take it into account in their distribution analysis. Without this annotation, the algorithm will not know it was not the actual organism that was observed. You can help these scientists by filling-in annotations when possible.

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Keep in mind that a lot of published range maps for species include specimen records that might be a century or more old. The species might or might not still be there. Range maps (e.g., dot maps) are good at portraying spatial distribution —currrent and former —but can be less accurate in terms of the temporal component unless you select for the time periods that you’re interested in. But dot maps in books or journal articles might not show that.

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It could still be important to know that the spot was, at one point, a habitat attractive to the owl, and also that there’s something there that kills owls.

But my general philosophy is “all data is good data” - I’ve been surprised by how many completely insignificant-seeming observations I’ve made that someone was excited about.

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