I’ve occasionally played with the idea of posting a ‘bounty’ for photographs of certain rare robber fly taxa. The primary goal being to locate populations of species that have not been collected or seen in decades.
For those actively involved in wildlife photography, would anyone actually be motivated by monetary rewards for hunting and photographing particular organisms? Especially when getting those photos may involve traveling to remote areas with no guarantee of success? What would be a reasonable payout, taking into account travel costs and time investments?
Any other ideas for how to promote the public to search for particular taxa?
Creating a list of unobserved species, how to distinguish and where to find them could be a good start and enough motivation for many to travel.
Here we have a competition for the most observations in far regions with money prize to essentially pay for the road there, but imo money is not a key element to stimulate people.
This is risky, in part because it runs the chance of unethical behaviors of people saying they found something, when they actually just grabbed a photo from the internet. That tends to happen with a lot of student projects, but at least most of those are easily confirmed via reverse image search and flagged as copyright infringement.
In my opinion, the best way to get people to look for more is to let them know that you are looking for x group. That is why I actually started photographing more leafminers and galls even though both groups are not the most aesthetically appealing. Both groups have people actively championing them and making posts to say “go find x or watch for y plant”
The same can be done for Asilids. Forum or journal posts, social media wanted posters, ID explanations, etc all help get people involved. Even better, organizing an asilid meetup, training, or conference that happens to coincide with a target location also gets people involved. We try to do that for the Ohio Odonata Society, which brings in new people and cool finds each year.
I’d certainly be out looking for different things if there were ways to cover my expenses by doing so.
I’ve been asked to look for specific insects by users before, but it was during the season that organisms I’m more interested in were out, so even with the postage potentially being re-embursed, I wasn’t giving that guy my time. Would definitely have only done it if I was being paid regardless of success.
One thing to consider is familiarity. I had no idea about fireflies, but the guy was asking me to look for a specific species of firefly that I had only found once while not looking for it, that I wouldn’t know how to find reliably, let alone identify amongst other fireflies.
Maybe making a list of all the (in your case robber flies) you’re looking for in one place so that instead of people feeling like they have to be able to find THAT robber fly to make it worth their while, just ask people to photograph/collect as many robber flies as possible from X area. Have maybe a low flat rate to get people out there, but with bonuses for each successful species they prove, or something like that. The broadness would be less intimidating for the uninitiated than looking for 1 type of robberfly is what I’m getting at, basically.
A bounty rather than grant or contract might make your already small pool of qualified searchers smaller. If $$ is involved, you might also want to award people’s labor and travel expenses from good faith searches. The absence data or any associated data from other species found would also be valuable. e.g. see https://illinoisplants.org/2022-survey-grants/ as one example of a similar-sounding initiative that has an application process.
I agree with the cautionary takes on incentivizing. An example I experienced: I was at a regional scientific meeting when a late-breaking talk was added to the agenda. The presenter was a professor who showed photos depicting the rediscovery of a population of snake that had been extirpated from the snake. They had had a graded project in the class and offered extra credit for students finding rarer species and included this snake half as a joke.
Long story short, while there was lots of excitement, there was also some scepticism. The snake was still on hand, so a genetic sample was taken, and sequenced. The specimen turned out to be from a population in another state where the same species is taken and bred in captivity. The student confessed to buying the snake online, taking it to the site of the historical sightings, and photographing it there and submitting it as a record.
In this case it all came out right in the end, and I doubt that the average iNatter would go to those lengths. The prof was trying to do something good, and really was just a little naive. I think it’s really tough to find the right balance of incentives that encourage good behavior but not bad. Which isn’t to say that it can’t be done, just that it is difficult.
Some successful schemes I have seen implemented (in person, not on iNat) include a rotating trophy that changes hands in yearly competitions - no money, just pride - and made up awards (that aren’t known ahead of time) after everyone submits their finds. So I think some type of incentivization could work, especially if you know everyone who might be participating. But I wouldn’t open it up to everyone or provide any serious incentives (like cash). You might be able to buy iNat merch and ship it to someone who finds it or offer some customized Asilid themed prize?
I have to ask, has this continued to be as big an issue in the last 10 years as it was before reverse image searches became a thing? It’s tedious to double check every photo, but if someone were in a position to get a monetary prize due to inflated wildlife reports, you’d think you’d notice a trend of stolen photos within the first 10 observations checked or so.
Arguably, it has never been a “big” issue, it is much less than 1% of observations. But after there are several million observations, that adds up. I have found some student projects that had a much higher falsification rate and inevitably end up messaging the instructor informing them that many of their students are stealing images. I’ve even had students take my own images, which has been funny to see your own hand and dragon that you collected.
It also depends on the taxa. Some will be harder to fake than others. There are only so many good Asilid photos that are confirmable to species and I imagine Chris is looking for really really rare ones, so it would be slightly easier to notice when people start to find weird things. Birds meanwhile, I have seen and heard of several weird fakes that have caused a lot of issues.
I only tend to check things that seem really weird (range, time of year, habitat), or oddly pixelated. Or if a user has one case of copyright infringement, I check everything else they upload just in case. Some users get good at grabbing ugly photos so it can be harder to detect initially, whereas other users just grab the first wikipedia image, so it depends.
I am replying as an average iNatter who is out every day (dogs need to walk) and normally takes pictures of just about everything that strikes my curiosity.
A monetary reward wouldn’t be an incentive for me, nor would a prestigious award or sempiternal fame or whatever. Should I ever come across another robber fly (which has so far only occurred once, in 2019), I will (as always) try to take a picture of it, regardless.
Indeed, the species I have in mind has never been photographed alive. Hard to fake when there are no photos online!
But unethical behavior was definitely a concern of mine, which is why I would only be looking for photos, not specimens. Don’t want to incentivize overharvesting of what may already be a vulnerable population.
That would be ideal, but alas, funds are limited. Although in my case absence data is not particularly valuable. When you are dealing with highly mobile, highly localized, potentially cryptic, and ephemerally-active dipterans, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence.
I would either go of two ways:
A) Ask people friends/people interested in the same family of animals, or ones that can be found in that area to organize a herping trip. You can make the even as private or public as you wish, hell you can even have lunch with them to have a great experience.
B) I would try to ask people to take pictures of the family of animals. Such as where I live we have a great amount of insects, but way more birds are observed, just because they are more popular.
From my personal experience bounties incite unsportsmanlike behavior and may be detrimental to the study, instead of the objective.
Something I’ve been doing recently is writing journal posts here on iNat detailing rare never-before-photographed psyllid species and where they might be found. I feel like for a lot of us, the notion of being potentially the first person to photograph a rare species might be incentive enough, and with a little guidance people might be more inclined to pay attention to particular things that they might not have otherwise.
Question, but on the topic of rare fly species, how easy really is it for a layperson to photograph one in a way that can be identified to species? I was under the impression that many fly species can only be distinguished from each other via close analysis under a microscope, and robberflies probably aren’t any different. Robberflies are flashy enough that I do photograph them when I come across them, but as a whole I tend to not really take the effort to photograph non-syrphid flies all that often (unless they’re large, colorful or flashy enough) for this reason.