Invasive Species Bias

i tend to map these whenever i see them, if they are the sort of thing that is sstill spreading or might be controllable, because iNat is a great way to quickly monitor them. There are whole projects devoted to mapping invasive species in a given area. So that may be part of this as well.


oh I thought I had remembered there being a pink exclamation point by the eastern gray squirrel but no it appears I was wrong whoops

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those are based on community curated establishment means criteria so that may have just been changed.

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Actually I have more of the opposite opinion, I don’t think there is enough records of invasive species compared to natives which I think is crucial for removal. This could just be pertaining to my county because I mainly focus on this area exclusively unless I’m traveling. In fact, I’m doing as much as I can to observe as many invasive species located around the Santa Cruz River to help get a better understanding of what is invading the river’s natural environment, which I feel is important.


Have you looked at whether native plants are better represented among the unidentified or incorrectly identified plants? Certainly iNat’s CV tool is more likely to suggest an invasive species ID because invasive plants are much more common in the world as a whole. The CV mostly ignores location in offering suggested IDs.

I agree with tallastro that invasives are often more showy. One form of showiness is producing lots of flowers and remaining in bloom for more months. Flowering continuously during the growing season and producing copious flowers can be one strategy that allows an invasive to out-compete native plants.

How long a plant remains in flower is important. Although I share your bias toward native plant observations, I must admit to a strong bias toward observing plants in flower. With some exceptions, it’s so much harder to ID (or get IDs for) photos that show only leaves.

One way to encourage people to seek out native plants might be to work with local teachers to set up projects that ask: “How many native plants can you find?” Start the students off with photos of native plants in the local area that are in flower in August/September, and assure the teachers that you will help identify the native plants the students find.


It is possible that many users actually do not go on an excursion in wild areas but usually record organisms in cities and in their very anthropized surrounding areas where wild aliens are abundant.
Many of these species would probably fall in the classes of casual or naturalized species, some others are true invasives.
Definitely, I think that could take this situation just as a datum and possibly try to analyze it. This could lead to the conclusions that iNat users are more “attracted” by alien species and that alien species are likely very abundant in the explored areas.


I agree with you completely. Most of the central and north Jersey’s forests are in a sad state with regard to invasive plant species, and much of our wetlands and brackish marshes have been taken over by Phragmites. These are what’s readily available to make observations of, and it shows!

When I explore I, if anything, have a bias to not include the well-established invasive species. There would be barberry and multi-flora rose everywhere. I’m not even documenting all the spotted lantern flies I see now because it would be overwhelming.

So I definitely have a bias and any kind of map generated from my data would be far from accurate in terms of the real floral composition of the place.


Here is my experience, I think the evolution is similar for many newcomers:

  • when I started with inat (and didn’t know much about nature) I would observe plants that are the most noticeable around me: ‘Oh I see that one all the time, I wonder what it is?’. Of course most of those plants that are near humans and dominating landscapes are invasive. It was still a great feeling to learn about nature around me (and invasive species tend to have a lot of interesting information on wikipedia) and motivated me to use Inat more.

  • after a while I learnt to recognize those species: ‘Huh it’s that invasive one again, is there anything else around it? Oh I didn’t notice that tiny plant here, what is it?’. And progressively I started to look for the less noticeable species.

  • now I became quite familiar with many local plants (thank you so much Inat team!) and I barely document invasive species, I tend to look for things I have not observed yet.

Nature scientists and hobbyists didn’t start this way but I think my experience could be representative of beginners that are hooked.


That’s interesting. There’s a large group associated with the NY NJ Trail Conference that does invasive removal around the lower Hudson region, and my understanding is that they recently (last year?) started encouraging their members to track invasives using iNat. The organizer of that group lives in Dutchess County, himself. They’re also training people, many without much previous experience ID’ing wild plants, specifically to identify invasives; so, for people in this group, there’s going to be a strong bias towards making observations of invasives, because that’s what they’ve been asked to look for, and that’s most of what they know (at first, anyway.)


I haven’t seen that particular bias, but I have seem some unusual upload biases develop. Trying to be conscious of that and make my uploads as unpredictable as possible lol.
In my area, Pink Lady’s Slippers are well known as a sensitive species that you should not pick. More a general rule about native orchids than that one in particular. It’s like the most common orchid where I live, so the “don’t pick orchids” rule definitely applies, but I’m not as worried about it as i am a dozen or more other species.
Unfortunately, the message got out a little too loud/unclear, and people obsess over the most common orchid species we have, and the actual rare ones basically get uploaded by a handful of users.
Using the dot points in nova scotia you would think oak trees are more rare than lady’s slipper orchids.

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Love seeing news like that. I don’t know who uses my data, but I pray someone like that finds it and uses it someday.

Every person and every iNat project have their own and unique agenda. So there’s a huge amount of biases if we are to take all the observations as a whole:

  • iNatting in the evenings
  • iNatting for pretty butterflies/flowers (consider the various criteria for “pretty”)
  • iNatting at specific places (ubran, walks in the park, while fishing, etc.)
  • iNatting for a school project with specific goals
  • iNatting to counteract a perceived bias

You can’t tell people when and where to record because at the least not everyone can afford it. So the bias is inevitable and thus iNat is not very good for comparing species like that. But the same is true for all scientific research as a whole - there’s certainly a bias for invasives and even for pretty butterflies.

If you think some species or aspects of life are underrepresented on iNat - you can set up a project specifically for them or search for existing projects and help raise awareness:✓&q=native+plants


I’m most definitely with @zookanthos here, because it is simply a matter of convenience. While the people who are posting here have usually devoted huge amounts of time to this site, the main majority of iNaturalist users just want to get to know the general plants around them. Yet as they continue to use the service, many get tired of just taking pictures of the same 5 plants, and so they branch out to other, usually native, plants.


Hello @eric-schmitty, welcome to the Forum.

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Right, and also document potential new outbreaks. Any palm, for instance, growing wild in the San Francisco Bay Area is an escapee from cultivation and a potential invasive. This observation of mine:
is a case of my finding palm seedlings, of a species that has been documented as invasive elsewhere, but that I have not yet seen reference to being so in California.


I touched on that in this post:

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Hear hear. I notice it in life, with the springing up of groups of people with no training in ecology or flora, being provided with herbicide gels and sprays and encouraged to strike wherever they see a target species on public land, or private land with permission.

Since the land management body for the publically owned forests, streams and native plantings has not to date surveyed these wild nature places and does not generally respond to requests to deal to even the most aggressive species on its own “target species list” this frustration and the resulting well-intentioned interventions are inevitable. Once people learn to recognise that plant pest they see it everywhere and cant see past it.

Personally I try always to ask myself, why do I want to suppress this weed? Then, what is it currently doing? What else is here? What will be the effect of what I plan to do?

Then the operation becomes one of love for the habitat, not of hate for a species. In almost all situations a sensitive and selective approach aimed at nurturing the existing or potential native species gets much better results in terms of ecological restoration, ie increased area, diversity and density of vegetation native to that site and likely to succeed in becoming self sustaining.


This is how I have begun managing invasive species on my land. I started doing it this way after I asked myself why I was trying to wipe out invasive species at the cost of native species; often I would destroy native plants by mowing, cutting or pulling invasives, and simply not knowing they were there. As a result, I managed to ruin nesting habitat for the towhees, chestnut-sided warblers and yellow warblers in a shrubland/meadow on my land). My strategy changed largely to simply cutting back invasive plants around natives to reduce competition, and the result of this is that after repeating this a couple of times, the native species will usually become dominant over the invasives and function as a control method themselves, now I have these birds I mentioned nesting here again. Removing the native species too, as often happens when someone mindlessly tries to destroy the invasive species without awareness of what else is growing there, usually (at least where I live) does nothing other than favor the regrowth of the targeted species, as many of the plants that have become invasive here are frequently able to stump and root sprout prolifically. Never have I seen an invasive species ‘monoculture’, a thicket of multiflora rose, or autumn olive, or ‘pure’ stand of garlic mustard, or even a species as aggressive as phragmites, truly exclude all native vegetation, but it concerns me how few people I meet realize this, especially those who attempt to control invasive species. It really bothers me when I see people tackle oriental bittersweet, but also cut (and sometimes treat with herbicide) all of the native grapes and Parthenocissus - it only results in killing the native plants and mature bittersweet while a new generation is given the opportunity to take their place.


I have to disagree with all of you saying that invasive plants are simply more abundant/visible. Even on most of the disturbed roadsides where I live, invasive plants, though common, are not often dominant - there is more trout lily and false hellebore along my road than there is garlic mustard or barberry, for instance, and this is not some shining example of a pristine habitat in the area by any means. I have been to far more pristine sites nearby where iNaturalist observations are limited to just a few common (and always previously known) invasive plants, while missing hundreds of common, and usually quite visible, native species.

Similarly, when I have visited New York City before, a place I am often inclined to think of as being dominated by invasive species, I am always amazed at the diversity of native species I find there, and often without any attempt to look for them. I have seen white snakeroot and early goldenrod growing in the railroad ballast, native smartweeds in the sidewalk cracks, etc. and don’t even get me started on the semi-natural areas in parks or other open space; they are by no means ‘pristine’, but there still is an abundance of native plants there.

I think the truth of the matter is that people generally believe they are helping to report invasive species, but I don’t see much use in documenting the same common and thoroughly-documented invasive species time and time again, especially when it means that person is not engaging with the native species that it may be affecting, and when that species is so abundant and widespread that no amount of documenting its distribution will help with its management. I am not saying we shouldn’t be uploading observations of invasive species, as I think they are as important to document as native species (particularly where they have not yet been well-documented), but what I am saying is that we need to be more aware of as many species as possible, not just whichever ones we choose to focus on.