Is there a point to linking generalist bees up to the plants they pollinate?

My own personal project just for my own curiosity but also in the hope it helps researchers in some way, is to link up native plant species with the pollinating creatures on them (and also the creatures that just live in them whether they are pollinators or not). No one has asked me to do it so I don’t know whether it is actually something that researchers want done or whether I’m just creating extra work for identifiers.

However, it means uploading multiple observations of the same bee species (on the different plants they are pollinating, which I link up with each observation).

I am wondering whether there is any point at all to doing this for clearly generalist bees? (e.g. Australian native bees Tetragonula carbonaria are clearly generalist).

Is this just wasting the time of bee experts on here? Or does the benefit of the information outweigh the cumbersome task of continuing to provide IDs for the same species over and over again for different plants?

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I would think there is some benefit. Not just from the bee side of things, but also from the plant side of things. For example, say I was interested in what pollinators most commonly visit Cirsium horridulum, I could check out something like this.


Of course there is. We only know generalist bees are generalists because someone else looked first. Who knows what else you could find out?


Do note that “generalists” are not all equally polyphagous - many show distinct preferences.

For example, in my experience Xylocopa sonorina can be summoned out of thin air using as few as a half-dozen or two flowers of domesticated Cucurbitaceae, even though it can regularly be seen ignoring inflorescences that attract Apis in droves.


Perhaps a dumb question, but is there a way to do it without re-uploading things? It sounds like the main issue is uploading a bunch of generalist insects and overloading identifiers with them.

Someone near me has a similar project that occasionally annotates my observations-- all they do is type what the species is in the observation field. Here’s an example that’s down to species and one that’s down to genus.

I think they’ve stopped doing this because it ends up doubling up records, which is obviously undesirable, but this is an example where the original observation was the plant and not the insect but contains identifying links.

Of course, I don’t fully understand how data gets processed so this format may not work for you. Just thought I’d throw it out there in case it’s helpful :o I’m not entirely sure what your goals are, so it may not be possible/desirable to not have a direct link to a separate observation containing the linked item.

I have tried doing multiple species for one plant observation. Unfortunately, after I have entered one, the next one I enter just replaces the previous one. So it appears as though you can only do one observation of a pollinator per plant picture that you upload. (But I am happy to be corrected as I am still reasonably new and may have just misunderstood it at the time).

I did previously ask a bee expert whether it was acceptable to upload the same bee species multiple times as long as it was for different plants, and they said it was.

I think there may be an issue with uploading lots of insect species for one plant (even if it is possible), as I don’t always see them on the same day and the observations for the plant and insect grouping have to be entered for the same day.

That is a very good point. Thank you for helping me think of it in that way.

One of the things I love so much about iNaturalist is how much I am learning! Thank you for introducing the word ‘polyphagous’ to me and explaining it (and your point) in a way I understood. Also, that is a very good point.

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There is no limit on how often you are allowed to post observations of a particular species. An observation represents an interaction with a specific individual at a particular time. So if you saw multiple individuals of a species one day when visiting a site, you can upload an observation for each (within limits; maybe don’t post each of the 100 daisies in the meadow separately). You can post new observations of the same individual if you see it again on a different day.

If I understand you correctly, you are using an observation field that links the observation to another observation, correct? You might find that one of the ones that uses taxon lookup is a better fit for what you are trying to do.

If you see multiple insects on a particular plant species on different days, you can post observations for each of the insects and use one of the observation fields that allows for taxon lookup to record the plant being visited (e.g. “Interaction->visited flower of”). As you noted, for the plants it unfortunately isn’t possible to add the same observation field multiple times with different values, but if you use an appropriate field on the observation for the insect, the insect-plant interaction is recorded for both taxa and it is possible to look it up from either the plant or the insect side (though this is not easy to do using iNat’s interface).

These forum threads explain some of the possibilities provided by the observation fields in a bit more detail:

To answer your question as to whether noting this information is interesting/useful to researchers: absolutely!

With bees there is also a difference (from the bee point of view, perhaps less so from a pollination perspective) between visiting a flower for nectar (sustenance of the adult bee) and using a flower as a pollen source (for provisioning offspring). Some oligolectic bees will use a broader range of nectar plants; others will mostly use their pollen source as their nectar source also.

I don’t think this nuance can be captured as easily using iNat, since it can be difficult to determine whether a plant is serving as a nectar source or a pollen source based on photos. There is a bee scientist in Germany who has compiled a list of which plants serve as pollen sources for which native bees. I believe he relied, at least in part, on analysis of the pollen found in their nests, which is obviously not feasible for most of us. But even recording which bees visit which plants is still valuable information.


If you add the ones who “just live in them,” your project will encompass essentially every herbivorous insect. That is a very large project, and the pollinators will likely be lost among the herbivores.

Fully agree it is a massive task. I hope I’m not the only one doing it (although I plan on doing it for a long time). That’s what I love about iNat… others can be doing it too (if that is their thing).

With the pollinating species, in the observation field I enter “Pollination → Yes” (see an example here - Observation Fields only viewable on a laptop or desktop computer, not on the phone app: ) .

I don’t think they would get lost that way, although I would be interested to know whether the data can be sorted by “Pollination” or not. I assume so if it is an Observation Field entry.

I do think it is useful to note which insects prefer which plants. For example, a certain species of acacia that was budding last month (still trying to get an ID for it) had multiple specimens of Calomela ioptera living in it. Every single acacia of this species had them (but I didn’t see them on other acacia species). So I do find those relationships interesting as well. I didn’t actually see them pollinating (and budding had only just started), but they may be beneficial to the plant in some other way.

Thanks so much Brenda, I do indeed utilise the Observation Fields to link the two up. More so with the pollinating species as the observation and linking it to the plant through “Interaction->Visited Flower” or “Interaction->Visited Plant” - whichever is more appropriate. I try to get an ID on the plant once so that I can correctly enter it into the Observation Field for any insect or spider observations I am uploading.

Cheers for those links - they were very interesting to read, as was your response, so thank you for all of that valuable information!

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