NatureServe conservation status pilot (United States Amphibians and Reptiles)

Last week, I posted our new procedure for updating the global IUCN Red List statuses on iNaturalist as part of ongoing work improving how iNaturalist restricts sensitive geographic information.

Conservation statuses can also be associated with places (such as countries or states). For example, as part of the iNaturalist network, partner organizations provide us with conservation status and guidance associated with particular countries (such as NOM-059 in Mexico). And within the United States and Canada, use of NatureServe Country and State rankings on iNaturalist is widespread.

Much like we are piloting these new processes with the IUCN Red List for Reptiles and Amphibians, we are piloting new processes with place specific conservation statuses with United States S-rank (state) NatureServe conservation statuses for Reptiles and Amphibians.

This pilot is also a bit different from the IUCN Red List pilot because it includes directly coordinating through NatureServe with natural heritage professionals to help inform decision making for when threats from location disclosure (and thus geoprivacy settings) should differ from those suggested by the conservation status (deviations).

For this pilot, we’re following the same taxonomic process discussed in the IUCN Red List post.

How conservation statuses interact with one another

As mentioned in the IUCN post, we’d like to only have one conservation status per place per taxon. In the context of global statuses this means we’d like to prioritize IUCN statuses. That means we shouldn’t add G-rank Natureserve statuses unless there’s no IUCN status. If there’s any information from the G-ranking that is motivating a deviation, that information can be added to the accompanying flag. We’re planning a change to enforce unique conservation statuses for taxa in places.

In addition to multiple conservation statuses for the same taxon on the same place, there are concerns about how conservation statuses on parent places (e.g. a country) impact conservation statuses on child places (e.g. a state). Currently conservation statuses on a larger place take precedence over conservation statuses on smaller places in the context of geoprivacy. For example, if a species had an obscuring global conservation status but an open country conservation status, observations within the country would still be obscured. We’re planning a change such that conservation statuses on states take precedence over conservation statuses on countries and conservation statuses on countries take precedence over global conservation statuses for relevant observations. Once this change is in effect, the S-rankings discussed here will take precedence over upstream N-rankings (national) and global rankings for the same taxa.

Geoprivacy from conservation statuses also propagate down the taxonomic tree, so if there’s an obscuring conservation status on a species, observations of a subspecies will be obscured even if there’s an open conservation status on the subspecies. The taxon page currently displays conservation statuses from these ancestors but doesn’t indicate which is on the taxon and which is on the ancestor so be aware of confusion there.

Status vs. Geoprivacy concerns

As explained in the IUCN RedList example, our approach is to use NatureServe rankings as default positions for geoprivacy (e.g. SU,SNR,S5,S4=open, S3,S2,S1,SH,SX=obscured) and then have any deviations from these default positions (e.g. Anaxyrus boreas in Utah which is open despite being S3) annotated in the conservation status descriptions with links to the flags documenting the reasoning behind the deviation.

As part of this pilot, we updated the S-rank statuses on iNaturalist for all US amphibians and reptiles. However, we did not update the geoprivacy to avoid squashing intentional deviations.

We’d now like to get these statuses reviewed. The first priority is to review any existing deviations and, if they are warranted, document the reasoning in flags linked to in the conservation status description. If they are not, the geoprivacy should be updated to be in line with the default position. The next priority is to check the remaining taxa and make sure no additional deviations are warranted. Here is a table with all 5357 amphibian and reptile conservation statuses on US states attributed to NatureServe. The 132 deviations are highlighted in yellow. 49 of them are properly documented with flags.

Collaboration with NatureServe and natural heritage professionals

As mentioned above, part of this pilot includes collaborating with NatureServe and natural heritage professionals to bring their expertise and recommendations into these discussions about when we should deviate. So far, we’ve coordinated a group that includes Misty Nelson from NatureServe, Tania Homayoun with Texas Parks and Wildlife (@taniahomayoun), Chuck Peterson with Idaho State University(@petechar1), J.D. Kleopfer with Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (@jkleopfer), D.E. Dittmer at the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (@ded). Each natural heritage professional has agreed to review the existing deviations for their state (we’ve created flags and mentioned them) and also the other species to make sure no additional deviations are warranted.

As described above, our goal is to achieve rough consensus among the iNaturalist community for which species should be obscured. We see the role of natural heritage professionals as expert advisors who can inform decision-making and facilitate broad community buy-in. iNat staff and iNat curators will work to loop in other community members into these flag discussions to try to achieve such consensus and then update a status’s geoprivacy accordingly. However, we’ve made it clear that we can’t guarantee that the community consensus will always align with the recommendations of natural heritage professionals, although that is the goal of iNat staff.

Our goal is to grow this pilot to have all 132 existing reptile and amphibian deviations documented and grow the bridges between the natural heritage professionals and the iNaturalist communities to leverage additional expertise in determining when species should be obscured. Pending what we learn from this pilot, we’d like to extend this approach to the remaining US state species NatureServe assessments beyond reptiles and amphibians.

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Just a couple of initial thoughts:

For purposes of setting taxon geoprivacy, I share that goal, especially for statuses coming from different administrative levels, like global versus country versus state. But within a U.S. state, there may be more than one applicable conservation status, particularly in states with their own endangered species laws/protections. It would be informative to be able to list all of those statuses for a given state (i.e. a species is both S2 and listed as state-endangered). But we would want only one of those status entries controlling taxon geoprivacy within the state.

Likewise, it would be informative to allow something to display both National N3 and Listed-Threatened status at the same time. Or for that matter, both IUCN Endangered and G1 or G4 status, etc.

So that we don’t have to not add some applicable conservation statuses, would it be too complicated to instead just restrict the availability of the taxon geoprivacy setting to statuses from specified sources at a given administrative level? So IUCN at the global level, NatureServe in the U.S. (and Canada? Mexico? others?) at admin levels 1 and 2, etc.?

That confusion has always bothered me too. Could that be a priority for some disambiguation on the Status tab?

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If we know natural heritage professionals for states who might be able to contribute to something like this (but aren’t mentioned in the original post), is there someone we can ask them to get in touch with? I know of at least one (and maybe more) who are on iNat (but not the forum) who might be willing to contribute if they knew this effort was ongoing.

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Yes - please have any other states reps who are interested in this US herps pilot to reach out to us (help@inaturalist.org) or to Misty Nelson at NatureServe.

We’ve started to get feedback from the our pilot participants. For example, J.D. Kleopfer with Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (@jkleopfer) has reviewed all VA herps and all the ‘deviations’ are now documented with JD’s recommendations in a flag. Very exciting to be able to back up decisions to obscure or not with this expertise

#secure and obscured
Crotalus horridus S4 obscured https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543868
Clemmys guttata S4 obscured https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543869
Lampropeltis elapsoides SU obscured https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543870

#threatened and open
Agkistrodon piscivorus S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/542460
Farancia erytrogramma S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/542461
Liodytes rigida S1 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/542463
Opheodrys vernalis S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/542464
Plestiodon anthracinus S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/542467
Tantilla coronata S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/542468
Sternotherus minor S2 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543864
Apalone spinifera S2 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543865
Plethodon dixi S1S2 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/542459
Anaxyrus quercicus S2 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543838
Desmognathus marmoratus S1S2 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543839
Desmognathus orestes S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543840
Desmognathus organi S2 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543841
Desmognathus welteri S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543842
Eurycea wilderae S2 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543844
Lithobates virgatipes S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543845
Necturus punctatus S2S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543847
Plethodon hubrichti S2S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543848
Plethodon kentucki S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543849
Plethodon montanus S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543850
Plethodon punctatus S2S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543851
Plethodon sherando S2 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543854
Plethodon ventralis S1 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543855
Plethodon virginia S2S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543856
Plethodon welleri S2 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543857
Plethodon yonahlossee S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543858
Pseudacris nigrita S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543859
Pseudacris ocularis S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543860
Siren intermedia S2S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543861
Siren lacertina S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543862
Stereochilus marginatus S3 open https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/543863

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