Survey about criteria for wild/captive observations

I’m an adept of avoiding strategy, rather not observe what you’re not sure or mark cultivated, so info is out there, but not translated in a way that it’s wild.
I like forest I live by, but really it’s not the same as actual wild forests where human pressure wasn’t as much, trees grow in another pattern, it affects other species’ distribution, etc. so I find it very useful to know that trees here were planted, cut, replanted many times, which you can both read about or just look at map or analyze on the spot.
We shouldn’t just believe, really, every researcher should check data they use.


25 responses so far! Below are the early results. Please do not read further if you haven’t taken the survey yet and intend to do so…

Below are potential criteria for wild/cultivated status ranked by importance for determining that status. The score is the average of all responses. 0 = Not important, 1 = Slightly important, 2 = Somewhat important, 3 = Fairly important, 4 = Extremely important.

2.64 Organism was produced (born/germinated) under human control
2.56 The organism’s exact location (within 1 mile) is determined by humans
2.48 Population receives care or cultivation from humans
2.44 Enclosed in a fenced area smaller than its natural territory
2.40 Dependent on humans for survival
2.32 Movement intentionally restricted by humans
2.12 Behavior restricted by humans (mating, predation, etc.)
2.08 Privately owned (e.g. by a ranch)
2.08 Population managed by humans
2.04 Specific organism introduced by humans
1.84 Enclosed in a fenced area
1.48 Population is intended to be hunted or harvested
1.40 Movement restricted by humans
1.32 The organism’s general location (within 100 miles) is determined by humans
1.20 Fed by humans
0.68 Population recently introduced by humans (within past century)
0.60 Population introduced by humans

Some early take aways…

There isn’t very much consensus. Even the highest ranking criteria only scored 2.64 and every single criteria (except for “Population introduced by humans”, which was basically a negative control) had at least one person saying it was “Not important” and at least one person saying it was “Extremely important”.

Depending on how it was delimited, the iNat definition either scored high or low. “Exact location (within 1 mile) is determined by humans” had broad support as a criteria (only 2 people said it was not important). But “General location (within 100 miles) is determined by humans” did not have much support. This shows that the iNat definition might benefit from being more specific.

People were about evenly split on the criteria that has probably been debated the most: “Enclosed in a fenced area”. However, a modified version of that criteria, “Enclosed in a fenced area smaller than its natural territory” had relatively broad support.

I’ll post the results again after it reaches 50 responses or a couple weeks have passed.


Splitting animals and plants would help, it’s really hard to answer for both at the time.


I’ve already mentioned the conservation aspects of the distinction, but now you’ve brought in another reason why the distinction is important.

Anthropology and ecology cross over when it comes to looking at how humans have interacted with ecosystems in the past and present. Understanding what was planted and what remained “wild” is a critical piece of understanding this relationship.

Once again, the wild/not-wild distinction is important.


Honestly, I think the questions need to be thrown out and rethought more carefully.


I started to fill the questionnaire but I quit it as I’m not sure whether my interpretation of answers would be as intended. For example: “Population is intended to be hunted or harvested” - I’d mark it as rather not important, as there are wild populations that are hunted (eg in my area there are planned hunting of certain numbers of red deer but they live wild), so planned hunting is not necessarily coupled with captivity. On the other hand, if author means population which was founded with intention to be hunted (eg fallow-deer being bred and released) it’s quite another matter for me. Similarly with “population introduced by humans” - it depends whether we talk about invasive species which was once introduced by humans but now established its own populations which are not dependent on humans’ care, or about plants in garden or similar situation in which we provide more or less care all the time.


What is the goal here?

Is it for iNaturalist to make it clear to us what the researchers want?
Is it for a popular vote to decide what the researchers get?

Personally I think the problem is that the iNaturalist webpage tries to tell us what the researchers want using only 3 words: “Organism is wild.” The words on the phone app are not much better: “Is it captive or cultivated.” Typical English speakers could interpret those words to mean different things.

The other problem is that we regular folk cannot always figure this out. If you see a pack of dogs living wild either in the city or in the wilderness, are they wild? Are they cultivated? How about salmon swimming upstream (remember many now come from hatcheries)? Are they wild? Are they cultivated?

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Both are wild.

here’s the bottom line: it’s complicated. it’s messy. We will never get full consensus. iNat chose the simplest definition possible short of ignoring the issue entirely (which we do not want!), and this is also the definition the vast majority of eccologists use for research. I think the only thing worth considering is changing the wording slightly and maybe adding annotations for other categories.

There are some very, very important issues around indigenous land management, the Western idea of ‘wilderness’, conservation, and the purported separation between humans and nature. These are all really important issues but trying to work through them with the lens of ‘should inaturalist tag this spruce tree wild or not’ is both ineffective and diminishing.


OK, the so called grey area may be as huge as you want but, fortunately, the vast majority of observations falls in a well-defined class of either clearly wild or clearly non-wild organism. So, I do not see the point to overturn the necessity of flagging observations as non-wild if they are not.
In the case, it could be discussed how to better define the “grey area cases”.

It’s not just a matter of GBIF. Flagging observations has an importance that depends on the relevance that every one gives to the quality of data. Keeping these observations unflagged makes these data a real mess.

I have taken a look at the survey and I think that these tools are good but, regarding your own survey, many points are very poorly presented and confusing. as regards, I have some questions:

  • what do you mean for “Population introduced by humans”? Do you mean a wild population that is made up of individuals escaped from cultivation/breeding? Or made up of individuals that are the offspring of captive/cultivated organisms?

  • the same as before for the “Population recently introduced by humans (within past century)”. In this case, why a century should change things?

  • what do you mean for “Specific organism introduced by humans”? The introduced status of a certain species is not related to the wild/non-wild status. Otherwise, for “organism” do you mean a precise individual that is known to be deliberately introduced?

  • “Population receives care or cultivation from humans”. Why someone should be asked if in his opinion a cultivated “population” (cultivated population?) should be wild or not?

Maybe I am wrong but I have the feeling that there the concept of population is somehow misleading. Moreover, I think that most of the points of the survey better are fitting with animals. For plants, in most cases, things are much clearer.


I mean, “Was this population originally introduced to the area by humans or did they spread here on their own.” For example, the feral horses on Assateague Island were originally brought there by humans in the 17th century, so for a horse observation on Assateague Island, the answer would be “yes, the population was introduced by humans.”

If an organism is only a generation or two removed from the organisms that were originally placed or planted there by humans, some people may consider them “less wild” than organisms that descended from a population introduced hundreds of years ago. Personally, I don’t think it makes any difference.

Yes, I mean a precise individual that is known to be deliberately introduced. For example, a specific tree that is known to have been planted at a specific location.

Some things that are frequently considered “wild” receive care or cultivation from humans. For example, large game animals in African wildlife parks sometimes receive veterinary care. Wildflowers are sometimes tended in gardens or botanical parks even if they weren’t originally planted there by humans. Some people would consider those observations “wild/not captive” and some people would consider them “captive/not wild”.

Bill McKibben’s prediction “The End of Nature” has come true. Just that most people don’t know how to notice.

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If they breed by themselves, they are wild


If those wild species arrive by natural means in a closed space (a botanical garden or something else) is a typical grey area case for plants. In my opinion, they could be considered wild, especially if they are native.

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I don’t think their status as native / introduced should have anything whatsoever to do with whether they are considered cultivated. It seems there is some sort of bias towards thinking of possibly-cultivated natives as wild, but non-natives in the same situation as cultivated. This should not be the case. If anything, it’s more important to know about non-native species, because they could be new invasives.


Maybe we should just face it: nothing is really wild anymore.

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I think this is why it’s a complicated thing.

There’s many determining factors that you can look to, to decipher if it is “captive” or not. Some people only look at one, while others look at many, and some people look at none.

I think no matter what iNaturalist has as a rule or whatever results this survey yields, every observation that is unclear as to if it should be captive or not will still be unclear, and people will still disagree and scuffle. I think that’s fine though, because, as what you’ve said implies, human interference is undeniable. The lines are always going to be blurry because of that, and a survey isn’t going to really fix that, or make it any clearer.

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There’re tons of “truly” wild things.


we are a tiny species, on a tiny planet, in a vast universe, the amount of time we have existed on Earth is tiny, and even tinier when you look at the colonial culture that has caused most of the impacts. All things on this tiny planet influence all other things so yes everything is affected by humans, but i don’t see how this has much bearing on how one engages with the universe. In the case of this particular question that keeps coming up, it pertains to how ecologists track how plants and animals move around versus how humans move those organisms. It isn’t meant to be viewed as a value judgement or a commentary on the nature of humanity, and if you wrap all that stuff into it, it just makes it harder to manage it without adding much benefit as far as iNat is concerned.


I wouldn’t call anything a colonial culture, because people as whole are so because every species is so, only negative things happened to world around humans since we left Africa that at least had biomes adapted to hominids. But it also doesn’t mean nothing is wild now, as this point only can be a reason to not care about wilderness anymore.

Hmm, i would say i disagree with the statement “only negative things happened to the world around humans…” but i will leave it at that because i don’t want to derail this thread any more.