Regions, continents and identifications

I’ve been using iNat to keep track of observations when going out on walks, and I really love this platform.
Most of my observations have been in Morocco and Spain, and there is a stark difference in between the two in terms of the probability of getting additional IDs. It’s understandable that this comes mostly from a difference in number of users between the two countries. But given the very important overlap in biodiversity in between the two, I would have expected more cross-interaction on the platform. I also often see IDs from South African users for observations in Morocco. All this leads me to think that there is a continental element to it.
My familiarity is mostly with adding observations and less with the IDing of other people’s observations, for which I don’t yet feel confident.
Could anyone more familiar with the application and how IDing works help me understand?
Is it due to settings that people explicitely choose on the app (like selecting Africa/Europe for example), or is part of it related to an underlying recommendation pattern of observations to ID also continentally-based?
I’d like to better understand where this dichotomy is coming from and then maybe see if something in the application could be done to alleviate such a frank continental dichotomy.
Thank you


I started from this project - for countries which need identifiers
(I choose to filter for my continent Africa)

You can pick thru African Unknowns and add IDs at the level where you are confident. It helps, since there are so many difficult dicots, if you can ID plants to family. But we have more identifiers helping, and the iceberg melts slowly.

That continental dichotomy needs more observers to brave identifying.

(iNat profile for Lz1 is in Mexico ?)


When I initially open the iNaturalist ID page, I just see things by order of upload, most recent first. I do a filtered search to pull up what I want to ID, so I assume people in Spain may just do a country-based search to see what’s new in their area.


I would imagine that many identifiers in Spain assume that Morocco is outside their area of expertise. I know many people use political boundaries when selecting observations for identification. I used to do that but switched to identifying in my bioregion which crosses international borders. Political boundaries don’t reflect natural boundaries.


I have a few “identify” queries set up that I use as the mood takes me. One is for just my state, and one for the whole country (Australia). Another that I use most mornings at breakfast time is for anything seen that day anywhere. Because of where I am, that is generally only observations in New Zealand or Australia.


While I agree that we should use natural boundaries over political ones, often times its easier said than done, especially for invertebrates like insects.

Coming from the experience of a fly identifier from the US, sometimes keys are country specific, e.g. “Genus X from the United States and Canada”. So even though the northern part of Mexico is part of the Nearctic along with the US and Canada, it often gets excluded and gets put in keys for Central and South America instead.

This makes it hard to ID species from Mexico because there isn’t as much research on flies as there is for the US and Canada, even though the species are probably very similar to the border states.

It could be that IDers from Spain are using keys made specifically for Spain or Europe, which don’t include Morocco and Northern Africa in them. So they may be more hesitant to ID species from that region.


In addition to the overall scarcity of identifiers relative to observers, there may be other contributing factors:

  • a relative shortage of “in situ” local people that are interested in using iNaturalist (for instance if there is a more attractive national platform, or very active nature-oriented facebook groups, or…)
  • reluctance from knowledgeable people in nearby countries to identify stuff from places they’ve never set foot in, or feel less familiar with (actually a sane precaution)
  • difficulty in finding relevant, reliable, recent, affordable literature and references to support one’s identification attempts…

For difficult taxa or if in doubt: you can try mentioning - reasonably and responsibly - some taxon specialists from nearby countries (check the Top Identifiers or Top Observers on each taxon page), after using the Automated ID (“Computer Vision”).
With a bit of luck (or great social skills) you may even convince them to follow your account, if they find many of your observations interesting. In this case they’ll see all your future observations in their main screen - even though you’re out of their usual “area of interest” ;)


I think that is more or less what I said.


Thank you for the nudge :-) Your point is very well taken, and I’ll aim at identifying more. My iNat profile name is lz_

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That was my line of thinking too. There are possibly creative ways to make the switch you decided to make yourself more transparent as an option in the application. When selecting an area, there could for example be two dropdowns instead of one, one with the type of area (country, ecoregion, ecozone, continent), and another that contains the areas of that type. That could be a simple feature request that could make it more apparent that one can choose an ecoregion. As it stands, that single dropdown contains a bit of everything and unless you know what you are looking for, you may default to a political area rather than ecological.


You can also run your IDs the other way.
I started with the Cape Peninsula.

Done that … next?
Then I broadened out to Western Cape, some is familiar. Some not so. It goes beyond the tiny South-Western Cape corner with mediterranean climate and fynbos biome.

(And then, my Africa needs me) For difficult dicots, even more difficult marine life, and friends.

Searching for observations in a particular area is easiest if there is a place entered on iNat for that area. For a variety of reasons, most iNat places are based on political boundaries. Biogeographic regions are, by their nature, much less simply and clearly definable than political ones. In addition, there are limitations to creating large custom places, so the relevant ecoregion may not be available as a search option in many cases.

As others have mentioned, keys, field guides, and other reference literature are often specific to a particular country or other political region. When applying reference material for one region to another region, it is often helpful to have a checkist for that region to make sure there are no additional species that also need to be considered. Checklists produced by state bodies are likely to be in the language of government of the country in question, so this is an additional potential barrier for IDers.

Given that Spain and Morocco are separated by a body of water, I would not automatically assume that knowledge about the flora and fauna of one region is enough to confidently ID observations in the other – even if the climates are similar and there is significant overlap.


But if we can get a (foreign) taxon specialist to move it from dunno to - it is definitely in this tribe / family / whatever - that helps to get it to the right identifier (if there is one out there somewhere)


I do ID in Spain and this is for sure an issue. Within my prefered taxons Spain is already a more challenging country within Europe as there might be lookalikes of well known species… I do know next to nothing about lookalikes in Morocco and will be very careful to ID to species there


I wasn’t arguing that people shouldn’t or can’t ID outside their particular political region. I was mentioning some reasons why people often don’t do so in practice, in response to the question posed by the thread creator.

Whether this is desirable or not is another matter.

All of us make choices about how we feel we can use our time and skills most effectively. These choices are not fixed; they may vary depending on the day, or our mood, or energy levels, or current interests, or other factors.

People ID for many different reasons: for me, two main reasons are because it makes me feel useful and because it is a way to learn about and engage with organisms that are of interest to me; at present, what feels most meaningful are those found in the larger region where I live.

I also know that I can provide better IDs for regions I am familiar with: more specific, with more confidence, for a larger percentage of observations. In other parts of the world, where the flora and fauna are very different, I find that I am very much out of my element, and therefore I feel less productive.

Researchers might decide they prefer to focus on observations from the region they are studying, because this directly benefits them in the form of improving the data relevant for their work.

Others may be motivated by different reasons that lead to them making other choices – for example, a desire to discover new things and virtually explore places they have not visited in person. Or they may find that they enjoy the variety and the puzzle-solving element of figuring out unknowns and other observations stuck at high levels.

But, on the whole, I suspect few of us are truly altruistic in our IDing habits, and I don’t think it’s unusual for a regional bias to be part of that.


Some taxa are widespread and have unique characteristics, In theory I could ID them anywhere in the world.
Others are so highly variable that I keep to a 70 km radius identifying.

The keys for different states and countries sometimes assign the same plant to a different taxa. When these are synonyms, it is workable but often the differences run deeper.


I use the website, not the app, for identifying. Usually, when I do an identification session, I select a taxon (could be at just about any level below kingdom) and a region. Sometimes I don’t select a region. For example, some time ago I went through all the Clogmia albipunctata observations because there were many that were misidentified. This species exists on all continents except Antarctica. Then I did the same thing for the family Psychodidae. I’m not an expert in the family but know enough to correct a significant number of IDs. One of my goals was to get observations of Lepiseodina conspicua to number over the threshold to be included in the AI data. These were usually being misidentified as C. albipunctata by the AI for the simple reason that there were simply not enough observations of L. conspicua to train the AI. That was a lot of work. I don’t do that anymore with these taxa, but now my name shows up pretty high on the identifiers list, so I get tagged regularly to weigh in on identifications.

Other times, I will have just researched an observation of my own and found documents with characters that can reliably be used for identification. In that case, I do an identification session of that and related taxa. I generally don’t filter on a high level taxon unless I also filter on just my local area. For example, I may do Lepidoptera for Travis County, Texas, which is where I live.


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