Linking related observations to each other

The recent conversation about the new DQA and the issue of “Evidence related to a single subject” has got me thinking about how we deal with observations that have to be split into multiple due to having multiple individuals, species, life stages, etc. within a single photograph or observation event. By default, there is no way to know how much of the information you see in a photo has actually been documented on iNaturalist as separate observations, without manually searching through the uploader’s observations or asking the uploader. I have a habit of using an observation’s description to link directly to other observations in certain situations, so that anyone viewing the observation can easily answer some questions they may have about it. Such situations include (and are not limited to):

  1. There are multiple species visible in one photo, so I make one observation for each species, and they all link to each other. Especially useful for showcasing ecological interactions. examples:
  2. The observation is of a host organism, with one or more inhabitants/symbiotes that each have their own observations, which are not necessarily visible in pictures of the overall host. examples:
  3. There are multiple individuals of different life stages, sexes, or other annotatable features of one species in one observation event. I generally do not split such observations myself, so I lack actual examples, but the DQA discussion suggests that this may become more encouraged. Would apply to any picture of mating, oviposition, or parental care. Or… seeds and pollen.
    A would-be example:
  4. I have multiple observations of the same individual at different times. Good for tracking growth or life stages, e.g. collecting eggs or an insect pupa (first observation) and then bringing it home to see what it emerges into. examples:

I think of these (at least those that occur in the same place/time) as single “observation events” that comprise multiple separate Observations. I rarely see other users’ observations linked to each other in their descriptions in this manner. Which, I understand, is a bit of extra work (requires editing descriptions after publishing them), but I feel it makes all the relevant data more accessible. I would encourage folks to link their own related observations to each other if they can. Or perhaps there could be a new feature that shows “related observations” more conveniently. Does anybody else do something like this? Do you think this seems totally unnecessary, or perhaps useful?


There is no standardized way to do this, but many users use observation fields (e.g. “similar observation set”) or tags for such cases.

Some relevant threads:
Feaure request:

Other discussions:


Another example of a situation like this is when multiple users make observations of the same organism at the same time (“shared observations”). There’s a feature request for that and I think the discussion mentions some of your situations as well:

The staff have it marked as “very challenging” I think because it would require some rethinking of the logic behind what defines an “observation” on iNaturalist.


This is exactly what observation fields are for, but the problem is which of the many competing fields. “Associated observation” is used a lot, and it has the advantage of there also being “Associated observation 2” and “Associated observation 3” fields available. But there is also “Linked Observation” and “Reference URL” and I don’t know what else. I usually add several of these redundantly to my observations, so a user will find me no matter which one they look up.

I both love and hate that new fields can be created so easily. For example, someone just recently created the field “Joint observation” to link observations of the same organism by different people, but there was already “Multiple observations” for that, used several hundred times.

Diffident proposal: when people create a new field, use something like the logic the forum uses for showing possibly-related threads. “Before you create this field, please check out THESE ONES and see if they will suit.” I find the forum version useful.

A worthwhile project would be consolidating some fields. I know that’s been discussed a lot and isn’t likely to happen.


The observations fields are a mess, they should have stopped with adding it years ago or a forum topic where you can propose a field and that one gets the most popular exitsitng/used fields for that subject. I think a lot of valuable information is lost as the information is spread around several observation fields with comparable use.