Mark observations as new distribution records

First I want to thank all involved with iNaturalist as a whole. It serves many valuable purposes. One of those is what I keep describing as probably an exponential increase in geographic distribution information of organisms that would have otherwise been unknown. Since joining iNaturalist I have earned two County records in the state of South Dakota for the Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata), two County records for two different species of dragonflies, and one state record for a crayfish. I’m sure that I’m not alone in desiring for there to be a feature where a user could check a box or something that would stamp that observation as a geographic distribution record at the County, State, Country level. I don’t have a great idea of what it would look like but it would be interesting to know (have stats) on just how many observations in iNat have turned into a range expansion record for that organism. It is a novel product to iNat in that I don’t really know my dragonfly species or my crayfish but because I posted the observations the experts that do track those taxa distributions sought me out and informed me of the record. It is very exciting and I think it is a metric that is not currently being captured and claimed even though these records wouldn’t be happening without the iNat system.

Since iNat doesn’t contain outside data (much of which isn’t even digitized for some groups of taxa), it’s not really possible for it to automatically identify new distribution records. There is an existing feature though the place checklists, which records the first time an observation was recorded in that area. There is also a comments and description section where additional notes can be made for observations of note like this. But I don’t think it’s a very high traffic part of the site, and anyone can edit the section, for better or worse. (if I’m misinterpreting your request, just let me know)

If you mean something new to iNat in a certain place (not necessarily an expansion of our collective knowledge, just what’s on iNat), there’s an existing request here https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/add-a-new-to-inat-species-discovery-counter-to-user-profiles/1545

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As @bouteloua said, it can be difficult to ascertain if an iNat record is really a new county or state record unless there is a published reference that maps currently known records from various sources or a taxonomic or regional expert who knows all those records. I’ve encountered a number of such records for various taxa submitted by others and usually add a comment that this is a new record for county, state, etc. Sometimes I encourage the submitter or help them to submit the photo record to a publication or another database so that it is more accessible to the specialists in that field. But iNat is definitely a rich source for such records.

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Thanks @bouteloua for your comments. I wasn’t really trying to suggest that iNat should be able to determine automatically that an observation is a new distribution record but more so that if a user could check a box that indicated that it was in order to provide the iNat number crunchers something new to report as an accomplishment of the system. I understand the problem that some people will erroneously report an observation as a new record when it might not be. Perhaps there could be two levels to it. One where a user could denote the observation as an unconfirmed distribution record and one where it could be denoted as a confirmed distribution record. The user could provide a link to the published record for proof or have testimony by an expert or something along those lines.

Currently, I use a “Distribution Record” tag for mine and add text in the description of my observations that are records. I indicate if they were published or not. A couple have expert iNat user testimony indicating the record in the comment section of the observation.

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Thanks for the clarification! I will move your topic back to #feature-requests. That said since it would require a lot of oversight and expertise, I’m not sure it’s something that the team would be likely to implement. Would be really cool though!

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I wonder if I could create a project for observations that are verified distribution records. Obviously it wouldn’t capture them all as folks wouldn’t know about it unless it was advertised but it might be a cool project to have on iNat housing only verified distribution records. Thoughts?

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Can’t say I’m keen on the concept. Because I live in arid grasslands where annual rainfall fluctuates wildly, and everything is tied to rainfall one way or another. Thus, species ranges are NOT fixed. They interdepend, and they respond. Not just to weather but also to intrusions by humans or by invasives, pollutants, noise, windfall resources, disasters natural and otherwise…You see my point.

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I think I see your point but I don’t think it applies to what I am proposing. I agree that in most cases a species range is not fixed by human geographic boundaries. But tracking species distribution using human made geographic boundaries is a widely used tool for determining the status of a species population. Or helping to understand a shift in range for some of the many reasons you described. One in particular interest is climate change. A trend of species being found for the first time in a geographic place where they were previously unobserved is useful information towards the management of the species.
I know text conversations do not convey intention well so please know that I am not being defensive and just trying to be more clear about my idea.

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I think it’s important to document new distribution records and would support a project on iNat that highlights those records that represent new and significant location records. The information can be valuable for tracking changes in distribution or just filling in holes on range maps to better represent the known species range. As we have probably seen, many of the base range maps in the iNat species accounts are often inaccurate or out of date, probably based on old publications. For some reason mammal range maps are often inaccurate.

Since we’re on this topic, it’s important to clarify the difference between a range expansion and a range extension. As the terms are commonly used, a range expansion is an actual shift in the distribution of a species, perhaps in response to some environmental change (the opposite would be a range retraction). These can be hard to document unless you have very good information on where the species was and was not before the new record was obtained.

More common is a range extension which really just represents a change in our knowledge of where a species occurs. Sometimes it’s not really an extension if you are filling in, say, a county in which the species had not been documented, but is surrounded by other counties where it was known to occur. Most documentation of species that we consider to be “out of range” are really the discovery of previously unknown populations and are thus range extensions.

I view this topic as a zoologist might, studying species that do not necessarily change their distributions much, whereas botanists might have a different take on what is a range extension or expansion. Also, volant species like birds can show up as vagrants in many places and these are not necessarily range expansions or extensions … but could be, so are worth noting.

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I think this would probably be the best way to do it, rather than building a new functionality for this. Also, congrats on the county records!

Wanted to note this blog post from 2018: https://www.inaturalist.org/blog/19285-a-birder-s-observation-extends-the-range-of-a-fiddler-crab-by-240-km

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Cool. Thanks for sharing that story Tony. I really enjoyed reading the post. The good news is that even if there isn’t a feature or a project to track all these new records they are still happening.

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