Options for the best way to handle non-established obs (e.g. escaped/released pets)

Really agree with this post!

There are already default annotations (alive/dead, sex, life stage). If this info is important, why not add the field there? It really isn’t a data quality issue IMO. It’s also easier to find than the DQA (which a lot of more casual users don’t really know about/see).

That said, I’m not sure how notifications work, but I think it would be good to be able to get a notification if a user makes your observation non-established. The OP is going to be in the best position to determine established/not-established. So if someone ticks their obs as non-established, they should know and potentially be able to respond.


I very much oppose captive/cultivated observations being able to become Research Grade.

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From the perspective of someone who does occasionally work through the “captive” observations of plants in my area to add IDs to casual observations, I think it would be great to be able to only show those still needing IDs to shorten the list. When I choose “captive” it automatically unchecks “needs ID” and both observations with and without a community taxon (aka Research Grade equivalent) are included in the “captive” list. Sure, I can mark the ones that no longer need IDs as reviewed but it’s extra work compared to going through the “needs ID” list. It would be nice to be able to set it so it will only show captive observations that still need an ID to reach a community taxon.


The proposed notifications changes are going to include when a change is made to a DQA property, per @tiwane 's omments on other topics.


As one who looks at captive/cultivated observation I strongly concur. No, captive/cultivated does not need to receive the arbitrary green label. But I do not need to be the tenth person* to confirm that the plant is a cultivated Lantana camara. Without resorting to the more “ambitious alternative” of casual being in the “wild” Needs ID pool, there ought to be a way as an identifier to choose to not be shown captive/cultivated that have crossed the two-thirds threshold for community taxon agreement at the species level. If a change is to be made in the handling of non-established observations, then the more limited first approach seems like the low hanging fruit, the least disruptive solution from a platform perspective.


okay. so the problem is:

and you’ve proposed 2 alternatives to address this problem:

  1. make those observations casual via a new DQA flag
  2. create a new non-DQA mechanism to classify
    • captive,
    • (escaped/introduced) non-established,
    • and (escaped/introduced) established,
    • (plus wild);
      … then display only wild and (escaped/introduced) established populations by default via filters, etc…

frankly i think you’re making this too complicated. if you want to include (escaped/introduced) established populations with the wild populations, then just relabel the “wild” DQA metric as something like “wild or established escaped/introduced population” (for which the converse / false state would then include captive/cultivated and non-established escaped/introduced population). obviously this doesn’t automatically reassess all the old observations with this new definition in mind, but neither do your 2 proposals address the problem of reassessing old data.

your proposed solutions are technically problematic, too:

  1. your first proposal proposes creating 2 DQA flags. but the intersection of these two binary choices don’t really map to your desired categories. for example, established=true + wild=true is not really equivalent to wild, nor is it really equivalent to established escaped/introduced population.
  2. your second proposal shares the same problem, though it could be tweaked to replace the 2 binary flags with just the 4 categories you’re actually looking for. still, this approach involves a lot of additional changes that change other aspects of how the system fundamentally works (RG categorization, etc.). so it seems like a lot of change to address what seems to be a relatively minor original problem. (in other words, it’s not a great idea to address a small problem if it ends up creating a lot of bigger problems.)

I think Scott’s wanted to do it that way for a long time.* But I don’t know that there’s community buy-in to roll them all into one toggle though. Worth asking. I think we need a lot of examples laid out for different taxa, not just herps, to better understand the issue. Would that California Mola tecta be considered casual grade…?

*About atlases page: https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/atlases

“Non-established” organisms
Sometimes species show up far outside of their natural ranges because they were moved around by people intentionally or otherwise. Unfortunately, like vagrancy, it isn’t always possible to tell whether an observation results from an established population in the vicinity or whether it recently escaped from cultivated population. The Brown Anole in North Carolina that is flagging this atlas is a good example. Our preference here, rather than to build new infrastructure for flagging non-established organisms, is to expand the concept of the existing captive / cultivated flag to include “observations likely not resulting from an established population.”

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I’m opposed to including this established/non-established flag in the data quality section. I think it’s way too confusing to be used consistently or helpfully. A huge portion of users won’t have much idea of what “established” means, and the users who do will all have a different opinion. (Disclaimer: I’m a botanist.)

I really appreciate that iNat observations are mainly neutral regarding whether a population is established, because they focus on single organisms. As others have noted, “established” is a property of populations, not really of organisms. I think that observation of a wild individual is very important from a natural history perspective, even if it didn’t come from an established population.

This may be true for “establishment,” (I don’t know) but it’s usually pretty easy to say if a plant is “wild.” When I come across a plant I can mostly tell if it’s there because of direct human intervention. @raymie used the example of a potted plant producing seed that then grew in a wild place. I would call the new plant wild because there’s a vector in the environment able to move the seeds, and the seed can germinate and grow without human intervention. I don’t need to make a determination whether that single plant is “established.” It would be the combination of multiple similar iNat observations that could lead someone using the data to conclude that the population was established (maybe with the addition of some observations of the “wild” plants flowering and fruiting).

(There are, of course, cases where it’s hard to tell if a plant is wild, such as here, but they’re fairly limited.)

I think prominent and clear guidance from iNat about what the “wild” flag means would be helpful, but it should be applicable to the whole tree of life. Right now the guidance for what isn’t wild is “e.g. captive or cultivated by humans or intelligent space aliens.” This fails to include the implied “escaped from captivity,” which may confuse some people, but from reading the responses in this thread I wonder if the phrase “escaped from captivity” is being used inconsistently. I would use it to mean that that exact individual was raised or transported in captivity. Is, for example, @raymie’s project meant to only include individuals that themselves were once captives?

I think each question in the Data Quality Assessment area should have its own information bubble that describes what the :+1: or :-1: options mean. (This would be instead of or in addition to the information bubble for the whole Data Quality Assessment box, which currently talks about the research grade/casual distinction.)


Sounds like this is problematic for the botanists but maybe not so much for the zoologists. Can you have a DQA option that only applies to one major taxonomic group (e.g., Animalia or even to just vertebrates)?

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I completely agree with your definition of a wild plant.

Yes, my project is mean to include ONLY animals that were once captive. I have, for example, excluded anoles that hitchhike on plants, even though many people consider them to be “escapees”, as they were never in captivity.

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How would a new Established DQA be reflected retroactively on existing observations? To be immediately useful, I think established=yes would have to be the initial default for all current wild=yes votes, established=no the default for all current wild=no votes. And then it would be up to the community to re-vote cases discovered of wild but non-established observations. Maybe with an initial automated assist from the Escapee/Non-established field and any other equivalent fields. The alternative of starting the Established DQA completely unpopulated on all observations would create a long lag time before it becomes a useful filter.

I’ll second that – it would be the more ideal solution. But the hurdles to retrospective implementation do seem quite daunting.

If this ends up getting implemented, I think the wording needs to be flipped for “Organism is wild” to avoid confusion. Based on long exposure to iNat, to me established=wild and wild=established. So instead, maybe something like

Currently captive/cultivated :+1: :-1: :white_check_mark:

I think non-cultivated/captive, non-established “waifs” can and should have the same meaning for plants as for animals. But in the context of iNat, the subset of plant observations determinable as waifs will be much smaller, and maybe only retrospectively. Once a plant is growing outside captivity, it’s not always predictable whether it will successfully reproduce… until it does, and then it’s established… until it dies out.

Since an iNat observation is of an organism and not a population, maybe something like

member of established population? :white_check_mark: :+1: :-1:

I wonder if you are going to get skewed feedback from this much smaller Forum community (which is already somewhat well versed in these issues), and it won’t be representative of potential reactions from the larger iNat community. Will you also be floating this on the iNat blog before implementation?


I want to give your post an extra few :heart_decoration:


Organisms move around, sometimes on their own, more often because of humans. The thousands of observers contributing to iNaturalist are often able to observe the early steps of these range changes. They can only do that only by recording a lot of “chaff” as well as the good records. (How can we know which ones are good??) I think iNaturlalist should welcome them all, as it does now. Why? Mostly, we don’t know what’s an initial step in establishing a population and what isn’t.

  1. If I observed domestic rabbits hopping down the road in Cannon Beach, Oregon (e.g. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/59651777) or peacocks loose near Long Beach, Washington (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/18850581), I’d assume they were escapees. I’d be wrong. Wild populations have been established at these locations for several years.

  2. A diversity of animals, including parrots, anoles, boa constrictors, iguanas, a triploid lizard in eastern Oregon, and the ubiquitous Eurasian Collared Dove have established wild populations from escaped or released pets. Don’t you think iNaturalist should help track the early stages of such invasions?

  3. This record first observation of Giant or Chinese Foxtail in Oregon (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/18477873) is important and (I think) ought to be posted, but we certainly hope it’s not part of an established population. The noxious weed board has tried to eradicate it and may have succeeded. Should iNaturalist exclude this from Research Grade?

  4. My colleagues and I carefully record seedling sedges and grasses around landscaping. Most of the seedlings are unlikely to establish persistent populations (e.g. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/61222320) but two of the Carex, C. divulsa and C. pendula, are now invading, establishing wild populations (e.g. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/35068565). I want to keep posting these seedlings.

  5. We botanists talk about “waifs,” plants that appear and die without establishing populations. Four Carex waifs were collected early in the 1900’s and then not seen again. They were thought to have died out. However, 80+ years later, small persistent populations of three of them have been discovered (e.g. Carex hirta, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/37604981).

  6. And then there are the recurrent waifs that really don’t persist in the wild but get included in floras because they get introduced and reintroduced by humans, birds, or squirrels. Species include corn (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/61116827), provo millet (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/61380039), cultivated oats (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/18074912), and milo (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/61485089, a cultivated form of Sorghum bicolor, which also produces weeds). I could see wanting to exclude these human dependents from iNaturalist, even when birds plant them, but how do you do it without excluding important new records?

  7. Cyperus eragrostis, a native plant of California and perhaps southwestern Oregon, has been moving steadily northward and now iNaturalist has records in British Columbia (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/40060524). Each new northern record probably isn’t part of an established population, but the species is moving north.

  8. Ginkgo bicolor has not existed as a wild tree anywhere in the world for centuries. I set out to purge the North American “research grade” and “needs ID” records of this species. I downgraded lots and lots of ginkgo on university campuses to “not wild.” I found a few seedlings that I had to admit met the iNaturalist criteria for “wild.” And then I found a few young ginkgo trees in eastern deciduous forests. It will take decades or perhaps centuries for these dioecious trees to form well-established populations but I’m very glad iNaturalist has records of this spread into the wild.

  9. The people who you may wish to have distinguish between established and non-established populations include the same people who post street trees, pruned hedges, rocks, and the moon on iNaturalist. Surely this cannot end well.

Too long a rant, but this is one of the points I care about. Be inclusive about potentially wild populations! Keep the current criteria!


I don’t think that Mola, a marine fish, got to California via human help. (I believe there are two records now from CA.) To me, it’s equivalent to a vagrant migratory bird that shows up in some weird place, without human intervention and potentially could represent a natural range extension. A very different situation than, say, a Bearded Dragon found in the California desert; that lizard didn’t get there under its own power. There is no evidence that lone lizard represents an introduced established population, but perhaps that could change in the future if there are additional releases. In the interim, there should be some way to distinguish that record from established populations of the same species.

Scott’s proposal is whether it’s “established”, not whether it was transported by humans.

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Yes, but there are different ways to interpret “established” and whether human intervention was involved or not. We don’t have perfect knowledge of species distributions and some animal species are more mobile than others. Jaguars occur naturally in my state but maybe only once every decade and they are typically wandering males from Mexico. You can argue that those individuals are not established as they are out on the “fuzzy edge” of the species range and may be lost to the breeding population from which they originated … similar to vagrant birds. But maybe they’re not lost. I wouldn’t consider them in the same category as an escaped or released pet which is far away from its natural or introduced breeding range.

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Thanks, yeah, that’s kind of my point - a lot of fuzzy vagrant and non-established (but wild!) organisms would be considered casual grade in the proposal.


Maybe the Observation Field: “Escapee/Non-established” (Yes) – which is already available and being used – is the best we can do here. Anyone who has ever had to interpret the meaning behind a strange outlier record knows there is not always a clear answer.

I know that triploid lizard well – Aspidoscelis velox – as it is native to my state and I’ve written about it. The fact that it is parthenogenetic, like many of its congeners, makes it an ideal colonizer in new places, with a little help from humans. And it only takes one.


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