Location accuracy suspect

Several times recently, I have run into observations where the species was several hundred miles from its known range (not intercontinental usually), and the observer had not responded to requests for location verification (sometimes from several people). Sometimes the person responds and either fixes the location or verifies it which is cool. I’m wondering if I should be checking “No” on Location Accuracy when I come across things like that or if those should be considered true without proof.

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If you think that a location is inaccurate, it’s perfectly fine to mark ‘no’ as you state (as it’s designed for). If it turns out the location was indeed correct, you can simply untick no and no harm done

As I’m sure you know, best practice would be to first ensure that it isn’t just a case of sampling bias, isn’t a vagrant blown by a storm, etc


Those are certainly instances to pay attention to, but in my experience that is within the margin of error for many range maps. There are specific species that are very limited in their range, but for most species that level of accuracy is something to raise an eyebrow, but not to be terribly concerned about.

Range maps are often updated at very long intervals (decades or more in some cases) and it’s not uncommon to have a situation where a species has been known from an area for 30 or more years, yet the range map places it 400 miles away at the nearest point.


Vagrants and unknown populations are the spice of life, that’s the big reason I haven’t really used that option much before, but it is annoying when they don’t verify. I might start using that more often, when the observer fails to respond.

2 things.

  • I would suggest looking at the map on the observation to see if there are other observations pins nearby, and possibly even go to the taxa page to look at the map there and turning on the GBIF layer. Especially if it is not in your local area (where you presumably know what is commonly present). There are many legitimate geographically disjunct populations out there.
  • always leave a comment saying you have done it. Users get no notification about data quality flags being voted on in their records. They will get notified about the comment. If they are inactive or ignore it so be it.

You can also try to be investigative about the rest of the photo. I recently found a Common Myna observation in Prague, which piqued my interest - and then I found a reflection of the landscape in a car window in the picture which was clearly nowhere in central Europe :)


When I find stuff like this, I also do a reverse image search just in case. We had a few bees in Ohio that were actually wikipedia images submitted by students as a part of a class project. So I always try to take things with a grain of salt when they are suspicious.

We still end up with plenty of weird things though and getting a range expansion of 500 miles is not as uncommon as you would think (See Paiute Dancer population for Ohio as an example)


If the observer has made the location accuracy circle very large, you are not supposed to down-vote the location accuracy as long as you believe the real location is somewhere in the circle, if not necessarily where the pin is placed.

edit: from https://www.inaturalist.org/blog/44732-exploring-fine-scale-geographic-patterns-on-inaturalist
“Please don’t vote no to “Location is accurate” if somewhere within the accuracy circle could be suitable. For example this Common Cowparsnip with a marker centered on the ocean but with an accuracy circle that encompasses suitable habitat on land.”


Why is it always this example with such small circle? Big accuracy circles are when they cover all Europe or all Atlantic ocean, or all USA with parts of Canada, nobody explained what’s the point of having such circles as “location accurate” when it’s nothing like it.

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You can also do a quick “sanity check” by looking for any observations by the same user within a few minutes of the suspect one. I’ve used this strategy to check my own observations; sometimes canyon walls can really throw off a cellphone GPS.


A large circle is imprecise. It isn’t inaccurate if it encompasses the actual location of the sighting.

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iNat system shouldn’t allow to add those circles, mostly they’re a product of phone GPS system or people who accidentally add them (or new users not fully understanding the role of geography on iNat and adding it just to “pass”), there should be a message popping that it’s too big, I believe mostly users remember in which country they were when they made observation, otherwise it doesn’t have much value.

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considering it is permitted to upload an image with no location at all, there would have to be a change to that policy. Although personally I agree, it should be mandatory to at least choose a country even if you then obscure the location too.


Well, maybe the second option, with a message, same as how it’s saying there’s no id or location at all, but still allows it, I’m sure accuracy of most of such observations is accidental.

You have to keep in mind pet trade escapes, nursery hitchhickers, incomplete range maps, agricultural introductions, natural range contractions and expansions…I heard narrowmouths in Palo Duro Canyon before they were in field guides for the region (or at least my older field guides). I think most field guides don’t show green tree frogs in Grayson county despite there being a lot of iNat records from there (including some of mine).

I’ve seen turtles well out of normal ranges (florida cooters and yellow belly sliders mostly), I’ve seen various exotic mammals outside of high fence in the Texas hill country. Of course birds crop up in strange places fairly routinely.

And likewise, the person voting the flag will get no notification if and when the location is corrected, except if the observer thinks to comment back to you when they do (this might be changing in the upcoming revamp of the Notifications system). For that reason, I tend to be pretty conservative about voting such flags immediately. I leave a comment first, asking the observer if they would double-check their map location, and explaining why I’m having doubts about the location. If it’s an active user, 80%+ of the time they will fix it. If they haven’t after a week or so, and I’m virtually certain the location is in error, then I will downvote the location accurate Data Quality Assessment.


If the observer appears to be active (check their observations page and/or profile for days since last active) I will just pursue a dialogue to resolve it… however if they appear less active and/or absentee, I just set the DQA flag appropriately and leave a message as to what I’ve done and why, and that I will review my flag when/if alerted to any correction/confirmation. This later part to encourage them to tag me back or otherwise get my attention… but regardless if they don’t manage to get my attention then it can be up to someone else to counter what I have done, either way the observation is receiving attention and is being “value added” :)

I do it this way, because about 3 years ago I became aware that the amount of observations that I was commenting on was considerably larger than the number of observations that I was being made aware were corrected or confirmed, so I actively monitored it for a time. I came to the conclusion that at the very least, being an active member myself meant that pushing the observation to a safer place in lieu of such an alert was a better course to take. If you are not sure if you will be around in the foreseeable future, then better to take an “ask first” approach.

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