Questions Curators and Curating

I have perhaps a silly question but I wish to get secondary opinions from out iNaturalists before going forward with it.

For quite some time I’ve been wanting to ask staff members of iNat if I could become a curator for site. Some things that I wish to change/add to the site is add taxa for many bird hybrids. Example being, me and several other iNaturalists identified as an American Black Duck X American Wigeon but that taxon is yet to be added. I think ebird is a great source to find out what other hybrids need to be added, such as Red-tailed X Ferruginous Hawk or Broad-tailed X Calliope Hummingbird which have both been sighted, photographed and confirmed on that sight. I can understand how some known hybrids such as Pacific-slope X Cordilleran Flycatcher can be considered an “inappropriate” taxon to add since we can’t even tell the two species apart in the first place let known know a hybrid from photos. And it’s not just birds too. I’m seen several observations showing Cutbow Trout (Rainbow X Cutthroat Trout) and that’s not yet added to iNat.

But it’s not just hybrids too that need to be added. Currently accepted subspecies too have been absent from the site, one example being the Turkey Vulture ssp that lives my area of Western US.

I also think it would be awesome to add range maps for various species too. Besides birds, I am strongly interested in grasshoppers, however there are no range maps in iNat. I think that if we have a curator who would take the time, such as I, we can give someone a sense of what they could possibly find in their area. I’ve taken two years of computers and programming, so that would also be right up my alley.

And if you have taken the time with me through the last couple paragraphs, I’ve finally come to the reason why I’m still hesitate on sending the e-mail. Do I quality as a curator? When I think of someone curating a taxon, I think of someone who’s expertise in the subject. I don’t have a degree saying I’m a biologist, I’m working on. Which leads to my second concern? Am I too young? Is it wise for to give a college freshmen the ability to do these things on the site? I’m just worried about screwing up on something but I feel strongly that we need to make this site as accurate as possible with information. So that’s what I’m asking you, would you agree a college freshman with a passion for animals should curate?

3 Likes

The “equality” of users is one of the hallmarks of iNaturalist. I don’t know much about what curators do or do not have the ability to change on the site, but I don’t think you have to be “qualified” in traditional ways. I believe quite strongly that youth or lack of formal education shouldn’t bar any one from their interests. I’m not very old myself and I remember well the doubting looks of people who don’t think college students know what they are talking about. Ultimately though I suppose that would be the staff member’s call, so, why not just ask? Worst case, they say no! As for you making possible mistakes, I think the other users of the site would probably find and discuss anything you’ve done which they feel isn’t proper. It’s a peer review system.

6 Likes

I am a curator with no biology credentials whatsoever - my last science class was in high school, and my days are spent practicing law, not botany. You have tons of observations and identifications. If you can contribute, you would be welcomed as a curator. My skill is to read closely and notice things askew. Yours might be to make arguments for new species/ subspecies.
Everyone can contribute in their own way. Just listen to the community, and if you are told you are wrong, accept that you might be. Humility will take you far.

7 Likes

I would echo the previous two responses.

Mainly, you need to be willing to read, understand, and abide by the site’s Curator Guide.

There is a lot there, and the “understanding” part will come fully only with time and experience. So also needed is a willingness to err on the side of collaboration and seeking other opinions first, rather than taking unilateral actions right from the start. This is the best way to learn and get comfortable with what actions are no-brainers, versus which ones merit a more cautious approach. Whenever in doubt, I always reach out to a more experienced curator for a second opinion first. As was already so well said,

I hope you end up joining our curator crew - we can use all the help we can get!

2 Likes

I definitely agree that it would be great to have the hybrid options especially for birds as well as further subspecies. One subspecies that comes to mind for the area where I currently am (Indian subcontinent) is Western vs Eastern Spotted dove. I believe some authorities actually split them, but Clements does not, but the two subspecies are available on eBird. I also definitely agree that eBird is a great source of confirmed hybrids as well as a good place to get subspecies from.
I think you should go for it! :wink:

Things to be aware of from the Curator Guide on these issues:

1 Like

Good to know. So am I right that Clements doesn’t really keep track of hybrids? And I’m guessing iNat doesn’t recognize eBird as an “authority”, in which case there isn’t much chance of adding bird hybrids?

Just to note that all accepted bird subspecies (by Clements) have already been added to iNat

1 Like

I defer to the bird folks among our curators, of which I am not one. I do plants. :sunflower::cactus:

Yes and no. From the iNat authority for birds: " The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World as a global reference with explicit deviations outlined here. This authority applies to all bird taxa between class and subspecies. Follow the iNaturalist Bird Working Group to track announcements or contribute to discussions."

The route by which deviations from Clements can be suggested and discussed would be to join that Working Group project and add a topic or comment. I have no clue how often such deviations are actually accepted for birds, though.

2 Likes

I don’t think this is a “silly” question at all. Maturity is not about age, and interest, engagement, and love of a subject often trumps education. I just spent the last 3 hours with a bunch of local folks, most of whom never passed 7th grade equivalent, yet they have all signed on to our environmental protection and anti-poaching efforts and know more than pretty much anyone else about the region and what lives here.

If it’s something you feel strongly enough about to commit to, then go for it.

4 Likes

yeah in terms of whether you could be a curator, i’d say yes, but i also think that people may not want more bird subspecies added and i think birds are ‘locked’ so even curators can’t make some changes.

1 Like

@birdwhisperer - I will flush out and add my five cents worth as well

  • as others have said, you dont need to be a taxonomist or PHd biologist etc to be an effective curator. I started life in the life sciences, but as a biostatistician, before moving into other STEM areas where I could leverage the math and IT skills that came with my experience

  • as others have pointed out, the most important thing is not learning the technology tools that curators use, although you do need to do that, it is understanding and most importantly respecting what the site is trying to do in terms of usage of the site, taxon management etc. For example, you may personally feel that all photos of humans on the site should be deleted and banned, but that’s not the site rule, and you can’t curate according to your personal view

  • anyone who approaches it from a ‘I want to set the rules, or dont care what the rules are’ approach is not going to be successful

  • reach out to active curators, you can get a good idea of who they are from the curators list here https://www.inaturalist.org/people and ask them any specific questions you have

  • one thing to note is that if all you want to do is taxonomy management, many sections of the family are now locked into taxon frameworks and linked to defined references, and ultimately only designated taxon curators can change them. It is typically only experienced curators who are asked to fill the role of a designated taxon curator

  • as others have noted, birds are one of several areas assigned to a specific reference, in this case the Clements global list. As a curator, you don’t have to agree with the choice of a reference, but you do need to respect it. Arguing behind the scenes, or I guess in public that a reference needs to be changed is fine, choosing to ignore it is not

  • most importantly, make sure it really is something you want to do. While there is no current requirement of any amount of time commitment or doing a certain number of tasks, there is not much point in pursuing it and then realizing a week into it that it is not really for you. There are too many examples of people who think they want to do it, go all-in for a week or two, then disappearing from the list of active curators as quickly as they arrived

Separate to the question about curating, the question of Ebird as a reference to hybrids is one I would be cautious about fully accepting, especially given the lack of any kind of review of sightings. While there are good examples (not intending to promote my own sighting, but it was easier than trying to find another) that are well documented etc, there’s a whole lot of ‘some bird whose identity I’m not sure of, so I’ll just call it this hybrid’ in there too.

5 Likes

@birdwhisperer - I should also add that if you have a particular interest in adding range maps or data, that while adding an actual range map is a fairly technical process requiring using GIS software, especially if you have to do it manually and not download a prebuilt one, that adding species data to checklists is also an option.

In fact it may even be more valuable as it creates usable data, not just a graphic, and still is visualized on taxon pages. This is something all users can do, it is not restricted to curators. Doing it one species at a time is slow, but if you have access to or can generate regional lists, say a list of all grasshoppers found in a particular state or province etc, you can actually bulk load that in one step, and it is fairly very quick. Doing it that way also can help find missing species.

If you want details on how to do it, just say so.

@cmcheatle I’m not quite familiar with what you mean by “adding species data to checklists is also an option”, so further explanation will help give me an idea on what’s going on.

This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.