I’ve been trying to ID all the “Unknowns” submited in Portugal (only 200+ pages to go ahah). In the process, I came across lots of photos of crops, either in someone’s farm/backyard, or even taken at the supermarket (when I say crops, I also mean fish, seafood and other animals at the market).
I shared these experience with a couple of friends and we started discussing whether these observations are in total disagreement with iNaturalist’s policies, and whether they should be kept or deleted.
I personally don’t think they are in total disagreement with the platform’s goals. From a user perspective, people may be looking for an ID on something they saw, even if it was a cultivated plant or clams at the fishery. I understand that there are other sites/apps that can do the same process of AI identification without creating a georeferenced observation, so iNat might not be the ideal place for this. But then comes my point number 2: these observations can be marked as Casual.
Marking an observation as Casual informs a potential researcher/end user that that particular data was not verified and might not comply with all the parameters required by iNaturalist. So, maybe the Casual section is the place for this kind of observations? Or even in Casual there is no place for them?
Personally I think the grocery store items themselves should probably be marked “casual”, although there are sometimes various insects and fungi on the products that could still fit the iNat objective. Corn smut or leaf miners would be one example.
I think that photos from the market (even from cultivated crops) can be useful, for several reasons.
Photos of fish, bushmeat, and other locally collected wild products can tell us about the presence of wild organisms in the area. A number of fish species were first introduced to scientific study from the market!
One of the lesser but real benefits of iNaturalist is as a source of picture for lectures, etc. I’ve used it that way. I value the good photos of unusual, often tropical, plants that some people post.
Some people who post these photos are trying to learn what the products are. That education is a good thing.
These photos may also help educate us identifiers as we compare them to other observations we’re trying to figure out.
I agree that marking these observations as “Casual” suggests they’re defective although most of them have locations and dates. They’re just not part of iNaturalist’s main focus. Marking them “Casual” also makes them harder to access for identification. These problems could be, I think should be, solved by creating a third category, “Captive/Cultivated,” distinct from Casual and included in “Needs ID.”
I’ve wondered about how to handle this. What is the preferred DQA for observations of wild-grown pests hitchhiking on commercial products, like on produce food from a grocery store? For example, I’ve seen armoured scale insects on oranges from the supermarket, or a Colorado potato beetle larva in a bag of frozen peas. These were “wild” individuals, but our interaction with them is usually not where they grew up or intended to be (i.e., the oranges were likely grown in a totally different state and may have been kept in a warehouse for months), so I’m guessing both the date and location are not “accurate” in the iNat sense, or maybe they should be considered captive for the purposes of iNat.
If the organisms are alive at the time they should be treated as normal observations. Pests (and other critters) of various kinds could hitch a ride to another state or even continent and use this as a means of establishing themselves there. Just because they are in a supermarket does not mean that they are captive or not there as far as location and time tags are concerned.
Forgive me, my non-scientific background rears its ugly head, but is this not how some species become introduced? If so I think this would be such a valuable observation because it could demonstrate the exact specific means.
Yes indeed, these would be wild observations, and, as long as the date and location are those where the observer encountered them, those would not be inaccurate. If the organisms are not intentionally moved by humans, they would be wild.
Yes, I am aware. But for instance when I come across duplicated observations, I usually leave a comment suggesting that the user could delete one of them. My observation on whether they should be kept or deleted was aiming at the possibility of suggesting the same thing
In most cases, I think observations of things in markets or pet shops should be discouraged for iNaturalist - it’s really not what iNat is for. There are some observations like the fish markets ones that @dianastuder mentioned, which are a way to get observations from places where getting them otherwise would be difficult, but for most places obserations like these should be few and far between.
I think it’s also important to remember that observations are never marked “casual” grade - they become a casual grade because they don’t meet certain data quality metrics. iNat has a definition of “casual,” (which some of us like or don’t like, I know, but it’s defined a certain way) so you shouldn’t be voting in the DQA because you want to make something casual, you should be voting because you truly believe it meets or doesn’t meet one or more of those metrics as defined by iNat. Then the system decides what quality grade it is based on those votes. I know most of us know what we mean when we say “mark casual,” and it’s a term I use all the time, but I think we sometimes forget that at heart we’re discussing voting on the metrics here.
I think the answer is that iNat currently doesn’t have a way to deal with these types of scenarios very well (same with escaped pets and the like). IMO they should be marked as “wild,” but either argument seems pretty reasonable to me.
Those two DQA metrics are really about whether you think the observer encountered the organism on that date and location, not whether the organism is where it “should” be. So it’s more like if you see an observation of a wild hippo but its location is in the ocean - then you’d say the location isn’t accurate. You’re making a judgement on the quality of the observation’s data.
I think the presence of “organism is wild” in the DQA does muddy the waters here because that’s not really about data quality, it’s about relevance to iNaturalist. Which, yes, is a long-standing debate.
I agree with your first point, but I’d like to push back against all the other people piling on to say it’s obviously wild. Yes, this is how some pests get introduced to new areas (I teach whole lectures about this in my classes) but it’s not always that cut and dried. The armoured scale insect I found on a supermarket orange in snowy Utah last month is a good example of how the system isn’t set up in a way that accomodates supermarket hitchhikers very well: the insect didn’t live in Utah, its sedentary body was just trucked in the day before in an 18-wheeler full of fruit from thousands of miles away. It certainly couldn’t live “in the wild” if I left the orange with the scale unattended outside with a foot of snow on the ground. So having the species suddenly showing up on maps as “wild” and part of the January Utah fauna because of me posting that orange would mean something very different than if somebody actually found a colony living in their greenhouse or orchard. And that seems like a distinction worth keeping. I think I’d argue that since the substrate (the orange) was intentionally moved by humans, the hitchhiker should be treated as such, too, until they show evidence of actually living somewhere on their own.
I just want to add by saying that observations of cultivated plants have a huge amount of scientific value that I think is underappreciated by many users here. I am an urban forester and I frequently use iNaturalist to look at where species are being cultivated–this can be a useful proxy of their environmental tolerances, and while I’m not sure there is any research using iNaturalist for this right now, it certainly could be done.
It can also provide useful information to aid identification in the event of unknown naturalizing plants. These observations can serve as an early warning if a given species begins to naturalize before it becomes a full blown invasive species, although this is often obstructed by users who label observations as cultivated based only on the location and species without thinking. If there is ever uncertainty I think it is best to err on the side of leaving it wild or deferring to the observer–I have noticed entire populations of naturalizing plants that have been marked cultivated solely because they are not “supposed” to be there.
Finally, cultivated plants have a huge impact on other wild species, and are particularly useful for identifying host-specific insects such as galls formers. It’s frequently useful to take an observation of the host plant because a correct identification can assist with the identification of the wild species in question. And of course, it’s also useful to know which hosts wild species are able to make use of.
I don’t want to rehash the whole cultivated = casual debate in this thread but one frustration is that there is currently no way to distinguish these useful and high-quality observations from other casual observations, including the ones discussed above where the species is merely for sale and not really interacting with the biome in any meaningful way. Another example would be indoor plants–it can be hard to see what areas Ficus grow on the range maps currently because they are common house plants.
I know it has been said that cultivated plants are not main focus of iNaturalist philosophically, but my view is that they are a part of nature and information about them has value, and could have a lot more value if iNaturalist gave a little more thought to how to better manage them.