Useful casual observations being hidden by other low-grade casual observations

I have a question- would it be good to make projects just for certain useful casual observations?

First of all, I understand that iNaturalist is primarily for wild organisms- but I’m not sure how much we can go outside the box.

For example, there are thousands of observations of fossils posted on iNaturalist.
As a paleontology nerd, I don’t like the current situation which they are scattered around and hidden from the main view as “casual” (since they are not recent (<100 yrs) evidences of organisms).
For the fossils from NZ, I have created this project(https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/fossils-in-new-zealand).
I’d like to know others’ opinions before making a global fossil project.


Also, I have recently found out that many plant species are not often observed in the wild, but are common under non-wild environment (e.g., in houses of plant nerds).
Can we have a project for global notable cultivated plants?

My points are below:
・ It’s beneficial for iNat community to have enough photos of cultivated plants since they can potentially become naturalized.
・Recording the localities of cultivated plants will help track introduced invertebrates (e.g., insects, mites) associated with them.
・There are many cultivated plant species that are now extinct or nearly extinct in the wild, so they would not be observed on iNat unless cultivated ones are posted.
・Many new iNat users cannot tell apart wild and cultivated plants; therefore having enough numbers of photos of cultivated plants for the computer vision (artificial intelligence ID) would help increasing the overall accuracy of plant IDs.

I’m sure that there are quite a few more types of casual observations that could be useful, but they are hidden by other useless casual observations. Can we make projects for them so they can be found easily or should we strictly go with the iNat policy?

What do you think?

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I think at least some of your efforts might be better directed to working with existing apps focused on paleontology, notably https://www.digitalatlasofancientlife.org/digital-atlas-app/ and Flyover Country. These are North American focused apps, but the code and data structure could be adapted to other places. iNaturalist does not have a useful way to track geologic age, as the observation time and date is the age of most observations. Incorporating fossils on iNat will never be very satisfying or likely to be usefully aggregated, even in a project format.

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I think there already were some fossils’ projects, so yeah, you can, but if the question is about what you should observe, wild things will always win, look for what already is escaping, what is new and what is rare.

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Thanks for your reply.
I am aware that there are apps and projects for fossils; the main thing is what to do with existing observations of fossils on iNat.
In my opinion, tracking geographic age is not really very important, since people who would find fossil posts useful would already know geological backgrounds of the species / location most of time. We have been pretty successful in the NZ fossil project.

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yes, there is certainly a “hierarchy” among casuals. Maybe a field like “fossil record” could be useful to filter for such observations?

If there are users interested in such topic it would not be hard to create a project like this.

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There is a observation field of “Fossil”, however because observation fields cannot be really used for filtering observations except by using special link, it’s been pretty useless at the moment.

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Something similar could also be useful for old (e.g. taken more than 20 years ago) oservations to record the presence of organisms that could have disappeared in the meanwhile.

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Have you requested an Annotation for Fossil?

I use annotations, either to filter relevant photos, or to use on any obs where it seems worth the click click effort.

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To answer

I don’t think that there’s anything in iNat’s guidelines that prohibits making projects for captive/cultivated/non-wild observations. If iNat wanted to prevent these projects, it could. So yes, go for it!

In regards to whether these projects are valuable, that is really a value judgment. If you think it is valuable and want to invest the time, again, go for it.

I do think that there is, on average, more value in wild observations, so I wouldn’t encourage people to make a lot of captive/cultivated observations or observations of fossils to iNat. I agree with @pholroyd that if someone is actually gathering data for fossils, there are other outlets for this that will be much more useful. But if you’re looking to maximize what is already on iNat, then I don’t see an issue.

In general, the scientific usefulness of non-RG observations will be reduced because they won’t be sent to GBIF. This just means that they’re much less likely to be accessed by people using biogeography data. So, if I was looking to make an impact, I myself probably wouldn’t invest a lot of time in managing those observations unless I had a specific use myself or knew that someone else was definitely going to use them.

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I think we need to have a third category, Captive/Cultivated, separate from our wild observations and separate from Casual. I think this is a better solution than making a project for them, though that may be a decent stop-gap measure.

Making “Fossil” or “Older than ___ years” a searchable category would help, I’m sure.

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It’s beneficial for iNat community to have enough photos of cultivated plants since they can potentially become naturalized.

I think it’s also very hard to gauge sometimes - this palm(?) is marked “casual” and looking on old Streetview the place was once a cultivated garden… except now it’s been abandoned (check out all the litter around it), surrounded by weeds… and yet it still lives on.

Is it a cultivated plant? I suppose so - it was planted there deliberately. But nobody has touched the area for a few years, and the plant still lives… A feral dog would count, well, er, this one’s a “feral plant”, I suppose!

Same with park and street trees. Very few people do anything to them and they still live on. It does seem strange to lump those in with things like indoor plants, pampered zoo animals and pets when they live here just fine.

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Being able to search by DQA vote would be neat. If you’re going to make a project, I’d recommend making a collection project with an observation field requirement or an umbrella project with other fossil projects.

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It’s pretty straightforward to search for observations older than any given date using Explore or Identify:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/identify?d2=2000-01-01
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?d2=2000-01-01&place_id=any&subview=map
Just place whatever your cutoff date as the youngest you want in the end of the date range (or edit a url).

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I think what is suggested is make observations with certain DQA mark be easily searchable, not only those marked as too old (fossils), but also with wrong date or place, people shouldn’t save a bookmark on this url to look them up.

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“Useful” and “low-grade” are subjective value judgments. One could argue that the 1,001st Research Grade observation of, say, hairy cat’s-ear in a particular city is less useful than the one casual observation of a planted-and-forgotten bed of flower bulbs that would not have been expected to survive in that city’s climate. Another person could equally well argue the exact opposite.

In the end, the usefulness of a given observation or project depends entirely on the end user.

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I think it’s a question of relevance to iNat, and not usefulness which, as others have said, is a bit hard to judge.

iNat is really for observations of extant taxa, it’s not a place for posting observations of fossils. This is not a value judgement of fossils or fossil records, of course (they’re cool! and important!) but iNat observations should be of encounters with recent evidence of organisms (and the vast majority of those obesrvations should be of wild organisms). FWIW, fossils have been discussed multiple times in the forum:

https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/identifying-fossils/11271
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/uploading-prehistoric-fossils/13457
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/rock-fossil-crystal-inat/24333

I’d suggest using a different, fossil-focused platform and refrain from encouraging people to post more observations of fossils to iNat because it’s just not the place for them. But a traditional project that people can put existing fossil observations into seems OK.

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“Low grade” observations have me tearing my hair out. In the course of my research I’ve found way too many images that cannot be determined down to the species, but are, and worse have been rubber-stamped and “verified.”

In one case I searched for a particular species in Vermont in August and found 26 observations- every single one of them wrong.

Other problems: background flora indicates timestamp is wrong, image is of a home-raised animal, and my all time recurring favorite: aquatic species shown as coming from dirt country.

I for one wish there was a way to grade (or limit) observers.

Some may say “go fix the records” but even with studying only three related species, it would take me weeks. I’d rather stop the rubbish observations/ observers.

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That would directly counteract the original mission of iNaturalist, which is to help non-scientists learn about nature. If we gatekeep it to require scientific-grade observations, we fail at that mission.

More in keeping with the iNaturalist mission is to educate those “rubbish” observers on how to do better. If it bothers you that this would take weeks, maybe iNaturalist isn’t aligned with your purposes.

I for one wish there was a way to grade (or limit) would-be gatekeepers.

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I share your frustration. There’s no good way to prevent the problems, though. We just have to deal with them, hopefully not tearing out too much hair.

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It would be great if there was a star-type rating system for observations, something like:

  1. Falls outside guidelines (multiple organisms, etc.) or are unidentifiable (blurry, poor lighting, etc.)
  2. Barely identifiable
  3. Sufficient for identification
  4. ???
  5. Exceptional, with multiple diagnostic features and excellent notes/comments
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