We just introduced a new type of annotation called Evidence of Presence to iNaturalist, and originated from suggestions by members of the iNaturalist community.
To take a step back, remember that annotations are iNaturalist-controlled terms which are used to add metadata to observations and provide benefits to other parts of the site (e.g. taxon pages, collection projects).
An iNaturalist observation records an encounter with an organism or recent evidence of an organism, so the Evidence of Presence annotation provides a way for users to indicate what kind of evidence is depicted in an observation’s photos. We hope it will be especially useful for taxa where the organism itself is not often seen. We attempted to find existing, defined values for these types of data (even consulting the folks at GBIF) but were unable to do so, which is a) why it’s taken a long time to implement this and b) why we’re only starting with a few values.
The criteria we used to decide which types of evidence to include for the rollout:
- Will most people understand what the term means?
- Is it commonly observed and relevant to a broad group of taxa?
- Will it noticeably improve parts of iNaturalist such as the taxon photo browser, searches, or collection projects?
Evidence of Presence annotations will only appear for observations within Kingdom Animalia (except for humans), and there are six possible values at launch, defined as follows:
Organism: Whole or partial organism.
Scat: Fecal matter (not owl pellets or other regurgitated matter).
Track: Impression in ground or snow made by an organism.
Feather (within Aves only): One or more feathers not attached to an organism.
Molt (within Arthropoda and Reptilia only): Discarded skin or exoskeleton.
Bone (within Vertebrata only): Predominantly endoskeletal remains. Partial bone exposure in an otherwise intact organism should be labeled “organism”.
I did a little annotating on our test server to make some examples of how this annotation can be used in the taxon page photo browser. For example here are photos from Great Horned Owl observations that have been annotated as Feather:
And photos from Sidewinder observations annotated as Track:
Finally, some FAQs:
Why only Animalia?
We have nothing against plants, I promise! Unlike most other organisms, animals leave behind traces of their passing, which are commonly the only evidence of these organisms found by naturalists. Plants do drop leaves and fruit, but those are far less commonly observed than the actual plants. This seemed most beneficial for Animalia, at least at this time.
What about “shells” for mollusks?
I actually tried this out on our test server but found that it was of little use. Most observations of shelled mollusks, whether dead or alive, already include photos of the shell so it didn’t do much for separating out the types of evidence one might come across. Probably best to use the Alive or Dead annotation for shell finds.
What about [insert animal-related value here]?
There are certainly other values we’re considering for addition in the future, but again we wanted to start this off with the most commonly seen, useful, and least ambiguous values we could. Some commonly seen and useful values like “domicile” or “construction” seemed too complex for now (do we make different values for a burrow and a bird’s nest and a bee hive, or just use a blanket term? How does this translate to non-English languages?) and others a bit too uncommon or difficult to define for this first phase (eg bear rubs). For more niche or specific data needs, observation fields would be a better choice.
Do any existing observation fields map to this annotation?
Yes, if you use the Animal Sign and Song observation field, some values like
fur/feathers map to the corresponding Evidence of Presence values, so if you add them to an observation they’ll be annotated as well. In the background we’ll be retroactively annotating observations that, before this annotation was launched, already have the relevant observation field values. A few other observation fields that map to the Evidence of Presence annotation are Tracks, Scat/Excreta, Scat?, and Bone(s).
If there are commonly used non-English observation fields that would be relevant, please let us know.
What if none of the terms fit?
Just like existing annotations, choose the best value or, if none of the values are a good match, don’t annotate the observation.