NatureServe Statuses

With NatureServe State level statuses, are there ways to view the report for each species? For example
Odontosoria chinensis is listed as s3 and is obscured in Hawai’i by default. However, this species is incredibly abundant and I’d quite like to know why it is listed as vulnerable. Is it due to climate change such that it could be unobscured following iNat policies? There are many species which are listed as vulnerable in Hawai’i which are abundant and are under absolutely no threat of poaching and I’d like to try to unobscure some of these, as obscuring them really doesn’t make sense.

Does anybody know if such reports exist or how state level statuses are generated?

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State level statuses (state ranks or S-ranks) are generated by the state Natural Heritage Program, and then reported to NatureServe. Here’s the link to the definitions of global and state ranks from NatureServe, in case you’ve never seen this: https://help.natureserve.org/biotics/content/record_management/Element_Files/Element_Tracking/ETRACK_Definitions_of_Heritage_Conservation_Status_Ranks.htm

This report may also be of interest: https://help.natureserve.org/biotics/content/Methodology/natureserveconservationstatusfactors_apr12.pdf

When I was working for the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, I helped develop the state ranks for various taxa in Massachusetts. I can’t speak to how other states do it, but in Massachusetts, we looked at all the data we had, talked with various experts internally and sometimes externally, looked at the literature, and made our best estimate. However, we did not issue any sort of public report (or even internal report).

It’s also been my experience that sometimes Natural Heritage Programs have not had the time to update state ranks for every taxa in their state, so if a species has expanded into a state in the past decade or even two (for example, Black Vulture and Sandhill Crane as breeding birds in Massachusetts) or has gone downhill suddenly (because of white-nose syndrome in bats, for example), the state rank as reported by NatureServe may be out of date. Many (MANY) Natural Heritage programs are seriously understaffed and just cannot do everything they would like to do. There can also be a delay at NatureServe in collecting updated state ranks, again because of understaffing.

As for the situation in Hawai’i, I can’t help you. My best advice would be to contact the state Natural Heritage Program and ask them.

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You can also open a flag on the taxon and initiate a discussion about unobscuring it. In some cases, if you can present good evidence/reasoning, the taxon can be unobscured.

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One useful way to frame this is that the default position is that Secure species (S4,S5) are unobscured and Vulnerable species (S1,S2,S3) are obscured (blue cells), but there’s a process to deviate from this (e.g. your example that Odontosoria chinensis despite being S3 is not at risk of exploitation by humans and should be in red cell labeled ‘Anaxyrus boreas’). We’re working now on trying to clarify that process and find ways to incentivize participation by the natural heritage community to engage with the iNat community in that process. This would have the added benefit of nudging the updating of these statuses themselves (e.g. potentially revising Odontosoria chinensis’s status from S3 to S4 and thus returning things to the default position).

We’re currently user-testing this process with a few US state heritage networks focused on herps to explore ways to bookkeep these discussions and decisions to deviate from the default position with existing functionality (e.g. flags and conservation statuses) e.g. https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/64970-Anaxyrus-boreas


and also learn more about the extent to which we can expect natural heritage professionals to engage with these discussions on iNat and the extent to which the iNat community will mostly defer to professional recommendations or the degree to which we need more formal decision making processes

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This is a great idea, and I’m really happy iNat is trialing something with it! As someone who works with herps, I definitely appreciate that many taxa are at risk and unobscured iNat locations can contribute to that. However, there are absolutely many herp species in US which could be safely unobscured (Anaxyrus fowleri, etc.) so that iNat data can more effectively contribute to conservation and keep these taxa from becoming threatened in the future!

I think it’s also worth mentioning that sometimes political considerations can also affect the state conservation status of taxa “in the other direction” - ie, keeping them in “lower”, less protected conservation statuses, when they actually warrant higher protection. A great example of this is the longtime listing of some rattlesnake species (such as eastern diamondback) without appropriate levels of protection because it would be too unpopular (and perhaps unenforceable) to give these species higher levels of protection. I’m sure other species which elicit strong reactions from humans (either positive or negative) are in the same situation.

Given that, building an even stronger process on iNat for how we consider taxon geoprotection is a great development imo. I’m excited to see iNat thinking about how expertise/conversations on status here could improve governmental/policy decisions about taxon listing.

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