Sorting observations to highlight observations that represent the largest range expansions for a taxon

When using iNaturalist, one of the things that encourages me to continue photographing new taxa is the idea of making some kind of “important” observation for science. Obviously every observation is important on some level, but I’m more talking about the observations of uncommon taxa or taxa outside their usual range. I think this is something that can be said for a lot of people, while not everyone is looking to find something super noteworthy, if someone knows they made such an observation it makes them feel good and creates a nice positive feedback loop to further encourage people to seek out new observations. If people are given some kind of feedback that their observations are important, it encourages them to do more.

There are two easy ways I could see an observation as being regarded as more “important”: rare (or at the very least undersampled) species and species with represent range expansions of the present distribution of observations. A feature to order specimens by greatest to least number of total observations has already been discussed, but I can’t find any discussion of the latter.

By this I mean things like filling in observations of taxa at the marginal edges of their native range or filling in gaps (mostly between urban centers) where a species probably occurs but hasn’t been sampled yet. This feature could be relatively easily implemented by calculating the minimum distance to the nearest observation of the same taxon by latitude/longitude coordinates and then sorting observations within one’s account based on that.

This wouldn’t be the most useful from a purely scientific perspective, but as mentioned above individuals getting direct positive feedback that logging their observations means something would encourage them to log more observations (which benefits everyone). This would also encourage users to make observations in areas to “fill in” gaps in the native range of species where they probably occur but just haven’t been sampled yet. This could also be very useful from the developer/scientist end of things to highlight observations that might be misidentified far out of their native range or helping to define the borders of a naturally occurring range.

Approved this request for discussion because I think we do want to provide more context to observations, but in my non-coder view this might necessitate lots of extra churn in the background, which is what we’ve been needing to get away from as iNat scales (hence the new dynamic life lists and other changes). Although I guess it could be done dynamically when the observation page loads…


Not a way to do this on iNat, but you may be interested in this project ( which focuses on the northern and southern-most records for each species and has a similar idea at its core.


this sounds like the base idea for a geostrategy game. for any given taxon, create the biggest polygon with observations within, say, 1000km of each other without any other observations forming a line that bisects your polygon.

i don’t know if the calculation that you’re talking about – distance to nearest other observation of a taxon – actually is a good measure if range expansion though. so i’m not sure how practically useful a number like that would be.

I think there’s a simpler way to implement this. iNat already has geographical names. It would be awesome to have a note that this observation was the first in some geographic region. For instance, if it’s the first observation on iNat, then it says “This observation is important because it is the first observation of this taxon on iNaturalist.” or “…first observation in New Zealand.” or “…first observation in George Washington National Forest.” Or even smaller areas – “first observation in Capon Bridge, West Virginia.” There would be a great many observations that are the first in SOME geographic region, and I think that would help make clear users’ contributions to science.

It would also be possible to extend this to the second observation in a geographic area – “This observation is important because as the second observation, it confirms the presence of this taxon in the George Washington National Forest.”

For me, this would encourage me to continue documenting species that I have already identified in other locations. Otherwise, I have a mild tendency to pass them up as “too common to warrant a photo.” It would even encourage me to go document under-represented areas in the hopes of getting one of these notes recognizing my contribution to science.

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I agree this will make easier to fix this kind of obvs. But I’m not really sure about the correct way to calculate ranges, I guess some bio-geography will be needed (if I remember correctly, there are different methods and they differ between taxa and environment). -Without really knowing how this works in iNat-

Doesn’t the location identifier do something like this? I noticed when looking up specific pre-defined locations it will often list who identified the species at a certain site.