Survey about criteria for wild/captive observations

We’ve had numerous long and tortured discussions here at iNatForum about when observations should be marked as wild vs. captive. Unfortunately, after all of those discussions we seem to be no closer to a consensus. In an effort to determine which criteria have the most support for determining wild/cultivated status in disputed cases, I’ve created a survey using Google Forms. The survey does not collect any personal information, but please do not take the survey more than once. Thanks!

Survey Link:

I’ll post the survey results here after a few weeks.


Unless the information provided in past discussions of this is incorrect, the definitions in use on iNat are not a matter of consensus. They are what they are and they aren’t going to change. This survey may (but probably won’t) generate a meaningful consensus about something but it isn’t likely to change the definitions used by iNat.


The problem is that the iNat definition leaves a huge grey area that is the source for a lot of disagreement and contention. I don’t necessary think we need to replace the iNat definition, but it would be useful to see how people respond to more specific criteria.

The concept of wildness as employed in society at large is very fuzzy and not resolvable by tinkering with definitions. It’s fuzziness is very largely a function of its roots in a world view that sees humanity and its activities as outside nature. That we are not outside nature and nature is not separate from us is the reason that we’re making such a mess of it. As a heuristic device for talking about stuff that is minimally impacted by anthropogenic factors wildness is handy. As a term for categorizing phenomena it is of very limited utility and I would argue for using other language entirely if we weren’t stuck with the problem of how to maintain consistency of data. Since we are stuck with the data consistency problem the status quo is just something we have to live with.


I vote that the ability to mark something as captive/cultivated be removed altogether. It’s not, overall, a useful distinction, isn’t universally applied (there are lots of RG captive specimens), and the status of a large proportion of observations cannot be determined one way or the other even if there was a consensus as to a definition.


I looked over the survey and won’t take it in its current form. Many of the questions are not at all relevant to wild/captive status and it does not include some of the most basic criteria for being considered captive.

In my opinion, the way the survey is written in its current form serves only to stir up confusion.


Despite the fairly regular (and understandable) confusion among some users, the ability to search on wild vs. captive/cultivated is a HUGE help to anyone trying to assist with IDs. That’s not just for finding observations to work with, but also for finding taxa that may be candidates for an identification.

This information is also one of the elements that feeds into the DQA that determines whether an observation can reach research grade. As such it has a direct effect on which observations get shared with GBIF.

The distinction is flawed but it’s also very, very useful. I would strongly oppose removing it (not likely to happen anyhow), and I suggest that any efforts to improve it should be focused on clear explanation (in context) of what wild/cultivated means and how to apply it.


I’ve never understood the GBIF issue. Given the large number of observations of captive/cultivated specimens that aren’t marked captive/cultivated, does that render studies using GBIF data erroneous? Would the situation be any worse if GBIF users no longer had to factor in the numerous views of what, exactly, captive/cultivated means in the minds of iNat users? 3.6% of Canis familiaris in the U.S. are marked wild (RG)–I doubt these are actually wild animals. Same for Epipremnum aureum (the household Devil’s ivy)–it has 17% of observations marked as wild (RG) in the continental U.S. How are these erroneously designated observations handled by GBIF users if they don’t even know what criteria iNat users are using to make these decisions or even if such criteria are being applied or not?

I identify dozens of observations each day, and don’t know why I’d ever need to filter on captive/cultivated–but would be curious to learn more about the advantages of this.

There’s surely a lot of different cases, I have two (invented) examples:

  • you work for the customs of your island on invasive species introduction prevention, you know all about the potentially invasive species here and you use Inat to monitor if some invaders are observed in the wild (you don’t want to see the cultivated ones).
  • you are investigating the relation between a pollinator and its favorite plant and you suspect that the insect may take advantage of cultivated individuals so you check on Inat if different cultivars of the flowers bloom earlier or not (you don’t want to see wild ones because there’s only one type and you already have data about it).

It’s an important distinction for conservation work.

Where I’m working there are areas where there are endangered animals in captivity (some no-longer existing outside of captivity), as well as a good bit of wildlife poaching, protected animals being kept illegally as pets or sold in restaurants, etc. Also with plants.

The captive/wild distinction is a useful tool and being able to mark species as captive vs wild assists in ensuring that there aren’t conservation decisions being made based on incorrect information.


This species grows wild in Florida.


Wow. I see a lot of people think “Population managed by humans” is “extremely important” to wild/cultivated status. I mean… Is there any mammal larger than a rabbit left on the planet whose population is not managed by humans?


Even without id side, I don’t want my captive observations to appear wild, if iNat would “delete” this functionality I’d leave the website the same day, but hopefully it won’t happen for many many reasons.

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That’s rash. Had iNat never made this distinction, I doubt that it would have prevented you from joining. You probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought.

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Yes, but most of the 17% are either outside of Florida or are clearly in pots or gardens.

No, it doesn’t matter, I spent tons of time to decide what is planted and what is not, and if you want to please those who don’t care about rules by eliminating them, it’s not the website I love, we here work to correct mistakes and learn from them, not praising them.


If a tree planted 200 years ago (or even longer by Indigenous Peoples) and never tended to by humans is wild/not cultivated, then wheat planted in a field and never tended to by humans over it’s entire life (from sprouting to seed production) is also wild/not cultivated. I grew up next to a wheat field, and after planting, the farmer never returned to the field until the plants were dead (to harvest the seed). The only difference is the time frame.

In my landscape (garden) I plant Fall Sage, which is native to my home state–but further south, not in my county. Once I plant it, I never tend to it again (no water, no nothing). It even reseeds itself. This means that it is wild/not cultivated by many people’s definition. So what I’m trying to say is, how can researchers rely on the distinction between wild/captive if the data is being marked with such capriciousness?

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On iNat each planted tree is cultivated, 200 years ago or 1000.


That’s my point actually. I too used to spend a lot of time marking things as not wild/cultivated. In fact, it’s these very discussions that changed my mind on the issue just over the past few weeks! I now see that my time could be spent doing more important things–like correctly identifying observations to species–rather than worrying about trying to decide whether something is wild or not wild. I’m not convinced that researchers are aided by us attempting (unsuccessfully in many if not most cases) to make this distinction.


But in most cases, it’s not possible to know if the tree was planted or not–that’s one of my main points. Therefore, anyone trusting our wild/not wild destinations will be lead astray a large number of times.