"Research Grade" versus "Casual" tags

I am quite new to iNaturalist and still learning; I apologize if this post belongs in some other thread.

I see that for an observation to be classified as “Research Grade”, iNaturalist specifically states that the specimen must be wild, and not captive or cultivated. Yet I have seen many examples of cultivated specimens that carry a “Research Grade” tag. For example, all seven species of genus ‘‘Brugmansia’’ are classified by IUCN as Extinct in the Wild (https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?query=Brugmansia&searchType=species). When entering Brugmansia into the search box, I see 3479 observations. Many of these observations are listed as being “Research Grade”, despite the fact that all of these specimens are of cultivated anthropogenic hybrids. Can someone explain this discrepancy to me?

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The rules are one thing – how people end up applying them are another. There are two things that could be happening here – one is that nobody has bothered to mark the observation as cultivated. (The default setting for any species is wild.) The other possibility is that the observations might be “escaped” descendants of cultivated plants, since those are considered “wild” by this site. (There is still debate over exactly what that tag means, but I think a majority of users still consider this a valid approach. For one thing, it potentially provides a good early-warning system for brand new invasive populations…)

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Plants that are physically planted by a human are considered cultivated. Naturally occurring offspring of those plants are considered wild and thus eligible for research grade status.

Also as an FYI, the observation count on a taxon page includes all observations. When you filter it down, roughly 2/3rd disappear, leaving just over 1,200 research grade ones (in which I am certain are human planted specimens not correctly marked)

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?locale=en&place_id=any&preferred_place_id=6712&quality_grade=research&subview=table&taxon_id=62900

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About Brugmansia, I believe that some populations DO exist, but have been mostly overlooked upon. I know of wild populations in Northern Peruvian highlands (http://leovanu.blogspot.com/2013/08/miracosta-y-laguna-mishaguanga_22.html) an article by a local biologist includes a photo; and another one http://dev.scielo.org.pe/scielo.php?script=sci_abstract&pid=S1727-99332005000200013&lng=en&nrm=iso&tlng=en mentions them as growing wild in low montane wet forest if I’m not mistaken. Furthermore, collections in Tumbes (Amotapes jungles) do exist, see https://fm-digital-assets.fieldmuseum.org/994/140/SOLA_brug_vers_571792.jpg

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The short answer is what @psweet wrote: the rule regarding cultivated plants is applied only if someone marks the Observation as Captive/Cultivated (while uploading it) or “not wild” in the Data Quality Assessment. Otherwise iNat assumes that all Observations are of wild organisms.

I suspect that part of the problem is what I’ve recently come to see as a shortcoming in iNaturalist IDs.

For background, I do a lot of IDing of Unknowns, as I am not an expert naturalist but I enjoy seeing Observations go from Unknown to Research Grade because I gave them a nudge. Recently I’ve been including Casual Observations in my identifying. I’ve noticed that many new users (fewer than 10 total Observations) post photos of potted plants or plants in their gardens or public places that are clearly human-planted, not wild. I can only imagine how frustrating it is for a new user to upload a photo and wait weeks or even months before anyone offers any attempt at an ID.

But the problem is that a Casual Observation will never be anything but Casual; there is no equivalent of Research Grade for a Casual Observation, even if multiple users agree on an ID. So I’ve been thinking* that there ought to be some sort of new classification which, for want of anything better, I might call “Casual Confirmed.” It’s not RG and not likely to be useful for any researchers (does anyone research cultivated plants for popularity, suitability to climate, etc.?) but would achieve a satisfying consensus for people uploading Casual Observations.

As for myself, I noticed an interesting plant while waiting at a bus stop a few weeks ago so I photographed and uploaded it but (a small deviation from standard iNat usage) did not mark it as Cultivated although it was pretty clearly planted on purpose. But I wanted somebody else to confirm the identification I thought I’d found using Google Images and probably would never get that if I marked it as Casual. This discussion reminded me to look and see that my ID was confirmed by someone else, so I marked it as “not wild” in the Data Quality Assessment. (And even if 50 more people agree with our ID it will never be anything but Casual.)

  • I’ve been thinking of starting a discussion about this, and maybe I will some day, but this discussion prompted me to mention the idea a bit earlier than expected.
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There is an open feature request to treat not-wild observations differently. It has been open since this incarnation of the inaturalist forums started in 2019, and has currently over 50 votes. Clearly the powers that be are aware of the issue.

If I recall correctly (and I may not), Ken-Ichi does not want to even appear to be moving in the direction of a general-purpose ID app that includes captive animals and potted plants, so the status quo may never change.

All we can do is have these conversations time and time again, and maybe vote for feature requests as they come along.

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The community ID process and algorithm works identically on wild and captive observations. Identifications added to a casual record can and do change the community ID.

The challenge is it is clear a significant percentage of identifiers do not want these observations treated the same way as wild ones. Simply put, they don’t want to see them or have to wade through them. Adding a new category or label doesn’t change this fact.

The other side of the simple issue - people live in cities, the plants they see are NOT Wild.

However much iNat and iNatters wish we were all either field biologists or out hiking, reality bites as cultivated plants.

We need to separate Needs ID from Cultivated or Wild - and make it easy for each iNatter to toggle a default.
I do / don’t want to see Not Wild obs.

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It would be nice to have distinctions between casual (fine but no media), captive/cultivated, and data deficient observations, since those all seem like distinct categories to me. I don’t recall if someone has laid those out on the forum in more detail before…

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It already exists, the filter is right there on every filter screen. What seems to be requested is the default be changed to force people to turn it off versus the current force people to turn it on.

I think yes, some “cultivated” plants can be hard to ID, and most Casual observations are hard to find. Also, some plants can be confused as planted if they grow too close to human settlements (and are not native or are common) such as the afrementioned Brugmansia. I believe that the RG for Casual ones can be really useful and is a great idea on itself.

But how could we determine the “casual”-ity of plants we find once, or cannot 100% confirm they were wild or planted? Take this, this, this and this as an example.

The first one: I know, it looks cultivated, but it was actually growing out of an old Tagetes garden left unattended. I got no answer if it was planted (and it had spread out to the wilderness!) so, is it candidate for RG?

The second one: Appears to be a large, old population that adapted well. Grows on abandoned gardens of a ranch alongside wild vegetation. I noticed that this part collides with forest so… is it candidate for RG?

The third one: I have strong suspicion that it belongs to the genus Pseudogynoxys, and more specifically, the Mexican Flame Vine (Pseudogynoxys chenopodiodes) which is ornamental. I suggested P. scabra for a nearby individual, but not sure. Furthermore, this is a recreational ranch, so… is it candidate for RG?

The last individual: Hymenocallis littoralis has no known local name and there are more populations in the park I took the photo in. These grow without any known order and are 10+ years old. That specific individual grows near the former place of a Spathodea campanulata tree. There are about 6 individuals, only that one and another reaching flowering size. As far as I’m aware, it hasn’t been considered as a ornamental in the zone (so no seeds spreading) and wild populations grow in riparian grasslands north of the village. Is it eligible for RG?

All of these are circunstantial. Do we know exactly why are these plants there? No. That’s why I believe RG and Casual should have a midpoint (other than Needs ID!) just in case.

What is perennially being requested is to treat needs ID/RG and wild/not wild as orthogonal. Needs ID ==> RG is a progression that among other things allows identifiers to focus on observations that haven’t yet been looked at. No such progression exists once the observation is marked “not wild.”

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The International Palm Society has been tracking climate change by tracking the steady northward creep of where palms can be cultivated outdoors year-round.

Is that really what is being requested, or is it really that not everyone knows about the existing toggle?

I notice that when I toggle on captive/cultivated, the algorithm takes that to mean that I want to see only captive/cultivated. I’m okay with that, because it helps me to remember what I’m doing; but I would imagine someone might have a use case for seeing both in the same session.

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NeedsID and Casual observations of plants that have photos (to eliminate no photo records) in Canada in one view
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?photos&place_id=6712&quality_grade=needs_id,casual&taxon_id=47126&verifiable=any