Observing entire ecosystems

It is good idea for another site.

In ecology studies it’s common to define a place by its ecosystem classification, but that’s also something that’s more difficult to do than you’d first think. Even within “one type” of ecosystem classification there is a lot of variation, and disagreement on how it should be classified, or where the ecotone (ecological transition point) lies, or whether the ecotone itself should be classified as a separate category.

@charlie can expand on this in far greater detail.

Take a look at Elizabeth Thompson and Eric Sorenson’s Wetland , Woodland , Wildland: A Guide to the Natural Communities of Vermont for an excellent example of how ecosystems in just a small state can be classified. This was one of our grad school textbooks and all of us out in the field had some spirited discussions when trying to sort out what specific ecosystem category system we were in, even though the classification system used in this case is kept pretty simple and clear.


I think this can be done by recording all the species you can within the area/ecosystem. It is possible if you have the time. The vegetation community builds a pretty concise picture for those who know what they are looking at. You can also paste in a summary in each observation about the ecosystem. Also, build a project that binds the area together,


How would this be applied to Cities? I know that this is a bit off-topic, but trees growing in the city could host an small number of organisms. Obviously, this very small ecosystem would not last long due to city maintenance, but it would be important to record those too, yes? Perhaps by putting them in a Journal Post would be better because ecosystem in a city is not technically “natural”.

If you make photos of places I used to add these photos to Panoramio. This does not exist anymore so maybe photos of places can be added at Google Maps or in Wikipedia commons ( if you agree with the license). I do not expect iNaturalist is fits your needs.

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Hm, maybe if your place has Wi-fi access or you know the exact locality of where you took the photo, you could create and import a 360 photo with Google Street View?

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I would like more of the species observations to include a picture of the habitat it was found in, which would perhaps be a compromise between the current situation and what you are suggesting.


I prefer to use a few photos per obs. Some strategic details, and also a wider view.


Maybe, though it seems like iNat accepts only a few media types.

I didn’t mean posting the image on iNat, but rather posting the image on Google Maps at the site that it was found. For example, here’s a 360 photo taken by someone else of a nature preserve I often visit just after a controlled burn, posted on Google Maps.

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That is a good idea, but I think a separation from Species posts would be needed…perhaps a Project: Habitat??


I think a lot might be done by tagging. There are already projects that store all of a type of observation. We might have a wetlands tag for example to find photos taken in wetlands and group them in a project without changing the current system.


Consideration of ecosystem type is no less important than species identification. In fact knowledge of ecosystems can greatly assist in species ID (and vice versa). Identifiers probably do this all the time sometimes without being conscious of it (looking at location in the landscape, soil surface, species cohorts and surrounding habitat etc.)
From time to time identifiers in iNat already note ecosystem information in their additional notes. @gregtasney’s idea to include an ecosystem summary (where known) in observations would add useful information. I also like his and @katharinab’s suggestion regarding ecosystem based projects and @rozzychan’s suggestion of using a tagging system. So if the interest is there iNat can already accept and display ecosystem information. In our area (Queensland, Australia) ecosystem classification and mapping is well advanced so we already have a useful framework in place.

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In South Africa we have a Project “Habitat”
which requires you to select the Habitat from a list and lets you add as well the altitude where you found your species


I love the idea and have often thought the same thing. Tags could work, but it does sound like a new framework for habitats is needed.


I really like this site:
[https://www.commanster.eu/commanster.html](https://Ecology of Commanster)
You can begin with a biotope and get a list of the species they live in
Click a particular species, and see what it eats and which species can eat it. (the trophic chain, I mean)
In iNaturalist, when a picture is uploaded you could add a tag to show which biotope is associated to.


For what its worth, I think iNaturalist is about a lot more than the species per se, so almost all of my observations include one context photo to indicate where the observation was made. In fact, I’d much appreciate it if everyone did the same. For those who don’t see the need, the context photo can be ignored, but there are some of us for whom it is potentially relevant.

Since many of my observation are of small things - invertebrates, mosses or wee herbs, the context photo often contains an obvious marker of the location of the small thing. Credit to my daughter for having gifted me a fluoro orange sun hat, which is now de rigeur field equipment for me.


On bplant.org, I created the capacity to upload a single photo or set of photos, and then identify a list of plants in them. It was inspired by the way ebird.org allows users to report lists of birds.

That was before I knew of iNaturalist though; once I learned of iNaturalist I didn’t want to be reinventing the wheel or directly competing, so I’ve focused more on developing other aspects of the site besides reporting observations of plants, mainly things like articles, ID guides, and range maps, and the ecoregion articles and maps. I also noticed that, seeing just how tricky crowd-sourced ID was, from using iNaturalist, I realized that if we were to do something of the sort on bplant, we’d need to re-imagine it relative to the way I had initially imagined it. I had imagined it working more like ebird and I’m not fully convinced that is a viable model for plants…perhaps in the end but I will need to add more checks-and-balances to ensure accurate ID.

Perhaps if some day the project grows big enough that we have a staff of multiple full time people, we can return to further developing that system.

Another related topic that I’ve been thinking of, and perhaps a project I might undertake in the near future, is the idea of taking photographs of certain vegetation cover types. USDA materials have at least three different classifications of ecosystems, plant associations, and cover types.

So for instance there are the Kuchler plant associations, and SAF (Society of American Foresters) Forest Cover Types, and FRES (Forest-Range Environmental Study?) ecosystem types like found here.

I find these fascinating. And I wish there were better documentation on them. I don’t know of an online reference with full articles on the Kuchler or SAF forest cover types, there are just lists, nothing extensive, which is sad because you could write tons on each individual type.

But like…I would looooooove to start accumulating photos of each type and then have an article on each one, with an index of photos. I actually have this on my “back burner” list. I would like to get to it perhaps after I finish the ecoregion articles for North America…but…this might be a while because I’m not even halfway done with them and have been working on it for about two years.


Probably the majority of my observations are of the ecology, usually vegetation-focused, but sometimes habitat (with no fauna observed or identified), and occasionally my interest is the soil or water.

I struggled for some months to meet the iNat guidelines and aims, and arrived at a method which is by no means always satisfying to idntifiers, but probably those people have learned to ignore my uploads. Some others routinely confirm my IDs where they can, repetitive and boring as they may be, because they appreciate my goal.

I am monitoring a small area over time, to learn more about wild regeneration, weed invasion and other ecological threats including human constructions and their impacts on biodiversity and ecology, so it is VERY repetitive, but invaluable to the learning of the reality of the situation and possibly successful strategies , rather than idealized or ideological ones.

To achieve this within this species-based tool, I try, as you did in the above example…successfully, in my view… to choose a recognisable specimen or group of specimens, and when possible provide a close up to accompany the wide view as an additional image. I am not always successful at that, due to terrain comparable to you having to climb into the flooded forest to get a close up of the Licorice fern.

I think your observation above is one of the most interesting and informative I have seen on iNat, by the way. I personally feel frustrated looking at specimens devoid of habitat or context, leaving me with so many questions.

I also make observations to identify and learn more about species new to me, and in this regard iNat has been spectacularly useful, this new knowledge feeding into the habitat restoration and management


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