On integrating Alabama Plant Atlas (APA) data into iNaturalist

Hello, everyone! This is my first forum post, and I don’t know how exactly this could be implemented, but it occurred to me, so I figured I might as well try making a post about it. I did a cursory search, and it didn’t look like anyone else had brought this up before, so here goes.

I am an amateur plant enthusiast from Alabama, and I have used the Alabama Plant Atlas to a great extent. It is incredibly helpful. But I’ve recently noticed something: A discrepancy.

If you compare the number of verifiable, research grade species of vascular plants that have been observed in the separate counties of Alabama on iNaturalist to the number of species that have herbarium records in those counties in the APA, counties seem to be missing quite a few species on iNat compared to the APA.

To provide a few examples:

  • In Baldwin County, iNaturalist has Research Grade observations for 1,330 species of vascular plants, but there are records for 1,968 species on APA for the same county! That’s 638 species that iNaturalist is missing from its database, or about 32% of the species on the APA.
  • Jefferson County does much better, with 1,121 species listed on iNat compared to 1,215 on APA, but that’s still nearly 100 species (or about 8% of the APA) missing from iNat’s data.
  • Cherokee County has 726 species on iNat compared to the APA’s 1,166 species. Fewer than Baldwin’s discrepancy at only 440 species, but those 440 account for a staggering 38% of vascular plants in the county!

I think we might do well to rectify this by incorporating the Alabama Plant Atlas’s database into iNaturalist. I’m not entirely sure how it would be done or what legal issues that might arise regarding copyright, but I think it would be worth doing if possible.

Alabama’s incredible natural diversity is being underrepresented on iNaturalist, and this is well demonstrated by comparison of individual counties, but also by comparison of of the number of species recorded for the state as a whole: The APA lists 4,296 species in its database. iNaturalist however only has 3,510. That’s 786 species or 18% of the entire state’s vascular plant diversity missing from iNat.

I know that this kind of project can be a lot of work (and sometimes not even possible at all), but I wanted to at least get the conversation started. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m not the first person to bring this up, but I didn’t see anyone else talking about it.

Let me know what y’all think, and if this would even be possible to do! Thanks for reading :)


Welcome to the forum!

It sounds a bit like you’re mixing up observations and species, e.g.

On iNaturalist, an observation can be verifiable and research grade, but a species is not. Each of the 1330 species listed for Baldwin County is backed by at least one observation, so if you want the full 1968 species, those need to have observations.

The other list you can consult is the checklist for each place, for example, this is the Baldwin County checklist. Species on a checklist don’t have to be observed. In this case, the Baldwin County checklist shows 2056 plant species, even more than the APA.

Is your goal to have iNat observations for all APA plant species? Or is it to have a checklist that names all the species which are present, even those which are unobserved?


Welcome to the forum! I’m not sure what you’re trying to do is what iNat is for, which is connecting people with nature as they record their personal finds. iNat is not a general repository for biodiversity data, although it does record a lot of good biodiversity data. If you are interested in making APA data more accessible, I would look into getting them to export data to GBIF (maybe they already do).


I see. I think you’re right, and I am thinking about this wrong. I appreciate your reply!


My thought was to add herbarium specimens from the APA to iNat. But someone pointed out that I’m perhaps thinking abut this wrong, and I think they might be right. That this isn’t really what iNat is about.

There are lots of state biodiversity projects set up in iNaturalist. If you were feeling enthusiastic, you could use the herbarium’s records to give you a hitlist of species or areas lacking observations and set up a project to encourage people to go out and document them (ex. Document Alabama’s Missing Species!).


That could be an idea! I think I’ll think about it.


I recommend direct messages to @alabamaplants (who is not on the forum) and @adiamond , who are involved with the Alabama Plant Atlas, but I agree with the above commentators that adding Alabama Plant Atlas records to GBIF makes more sense than adding them to iNaturalist.

As someone who iNats many Alabama plants, it is my goal to add many of these species still missing. We need more “boots on the ground” in deep southeastern Alabama in particular, especially people who have access to private property down there.


It sounds like maybe you should make an account and upload herbarium records if you wanted to? I think some do that. I definitely look at and use APA for identification. I should have a holly soon showing up soon…found what is maybe a new record for Jackson Co.

I have a project for the spot of land we care for called Nat Mountain. :) For all its sociopolitical failings, the nature here is lovely and luckily thus far pretty bipartisan to protect. Theres a lot of folk who care about nature here.

I have run into plant poachers though. Even some “bigname” folk. So be careful. I was really surprised when I started looking at plants more how much its accepted in the community to trespass take and run. Sure not all landowners are friendly to scientists, but sneaking in and stealing isnt going to win anyone over.


As others have said, APA’s data (and iNat’s data) both feed into GBIF, so I think it is preferable not to try to add APA data to iNaturalist. But yes! use APA records to search for new iNat observations of previously un-logged species. This is a great challenge, so much fun and so educational, and you run into so many serendipitous discoveries on the way. @southern_appalachia, you could start a project where you propose a “species of the week” or whatever, of a plant and the counties it “should” be in according to APA, and encourage people to search for it. That’s really connecting with nature!


It’s a tedious process, but if the APA data are easily distilled as county-level checklists, these could be used to bulk-update the iNat place checklists for each Alabama county. Place checklists will accept bulk CSV uploads when formatted correctly. During the upload process, there will be some taxonomic cross-walking to do, to match up taxa that use different names in iNat vs. APA.

The advantage of doing this is that people using iNaturalist can then use the Compare or Suggestions functions (Checklist option) to see all of the taxa in a genus or family that are known from a county when trying to identify an observation from that county. And they will also know when they potentially have a new county record, if they are already certain of the ID.


As others have pointed out, iNat isn’t a repository of biodiversity data although it can be a great source. More cooperation and synergy between the sites is probably possible though. Links in APA to iNat could encourage users to seek out species that interest them or update county records. And maybe relocate long lost populations in counties without recent records. Links in iNat to APA could take users to more information about the species they’re observing. It would definitely provide the AL perspective on status and rarity.


Hi! Sorry to resurrect this post, but I had a follow-up question.
I have been looking at the checklist for my county, and I’ve noticed that I can actually add missing species to the checklist that other sources (like APA and BONAP) confirm are in the county. I’ve already added a handful of missing plant species to my county. I was just wondering if it would be okay for me to add any species I notice are missing from the checklist? I think it probably is, but I wanted to double-check. Also, is there a way to add reference for species occurrence in a place? Should I just add that as a comment on the species? Or is that even necessary?

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I add a comment under the species in the checklist when I have added something new or changed/added its nativity status. That gives credit to whatever resource you used as well as letting others retrace your steps if they want to learn more or aren’t sure if the agree with the change.

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Alright! Thanks! Appreciate it :)

Yes, go ahead.

It sure seems like there should be, but I don’t know of any other than what was said above.

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