Visualize ecoregions as map background

Platform(s), such as mobile, website, API, other: All

URLs (aka web addresses) of any pages, if relevant: N/A

Description of need:
Having a way to look at observations based on ecoregions rather than geopolitical boundaries improves understanding of data, and would help to spot outliers that may be misIDed.

Feature request details:
A similar feature request (https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/add-us-epa-ecoregions/10307) was rejected because of the load it would put on the iNat infrastructure, but I think I may have an alternative. What if instead of making every ecoregion an iNat maintained place, we could simply toggle the background map from geopolitical<->ecoregion?
In other words, with the click of a button, go from


to

(please excuse my terrible rough cut presentation here - I’m just using online tools for a mockup. Ecoregion data map from https://databasin.org/datasets/68635d7c77f1475f9b6c1d1dbe0a4c4c/)

If this was available, we’d be able to visualize the observations in ecoregions, but not incur the load of managing them all as places.

There has also been this request.
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/implement-standard-marine-places-for-the-worlds-oceans/1458

1 Like

you can do this in your own custom map: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/in-pursuit-of-mappiness-part-1/21864#want-another-example-in-arcgis-online

1 Like

So would their be similar benefit with the marine places just to have the visualization?

If I was putting together a map as a final work product, this is great! But when I’m actively trying to do cleanup IDs in real time, I don’t really want an 8 step process (even if they’re easy steps). I also want something that directly interacts with the iNat platform (i.e. I can click the dot to go to the observation).

1 Like

If you’re going out of iNat to make custom maps you can make maps of any sort.

That’s not exactly user-friendly though, and many (if not most) users would have no idea how to do it, or have the necessary software either.

A simple toggle on the map (same as the species ranges and AOI layer option in the existing iNat map) would be way to go in order to make it user friendly and accessible.

4 Likes

that’s why i linked to a tutorial that explains how to do it, using free tools.

you really would only need to set it up once, and then you could just refresh it to get the latest data.

if you want something more complicated like this, you can also make this happen with a little coding. feel free to adapt this web map to incorporate whatever ecoregion map layer you prefer:

it’s nice to have stuff that’s made to suit whatever whim you have, but frankly, i think this kind of thing is sort of a niche request. so if you really want it, i sort of think you will only get it if you make it yourself.

5 Likes

I think this means I haven’t made a compelling enough argument!

I grew up in south central Pennsylvania, not far from a crossroads of Americana, namely, where the Appalachian Trail crosses the Mason-Dixon Line (not far from Gettysburg):


When I walk that section of the trail and crossover from Pennsylvania to Maryland, nothing changes (which is why they need a sign to mark it).

To really appreciate what “home” means ecologically, to understand what’s native vs. introduced, to recognize when an observation is unexpected, I need to migrate my thinking from “Pennsylvania or Maryland” to “Ridge and Valley or Blue Ridge”:
image
That’s difficult when the site reinforces through visual display an arbitrary boundary that was settled in 1767 by surveyors resolving a land dispute. It’s when I cross those ecoregion lines that I ought to see changes, not the state line.

Learning about things like ecoregions and the effective 100th meridian has been one of the best results of using iNaturalist for me, and I’d like to see all the users on the site learn about them and be able to utilize that knowledge as well.

7 Likes

I very much disagree that it’s a niche request. I’d argue that it’s actually very strange that a platform that is based on ecology and species ranges doesn’t have an ecoregion overlay option in its basemap.

The only real issue I see with it is that there are now so many observations that they occlude the map until you’re zoomed pretty far in. At that point an ecoregion map isn’t terribly helpful (unless you’re looking at only a narrow subset of observations, like your own or those for a particular species) since ecogregions don’t have hard borders and the ecotones between them can be broad.

The linking of a tutorial is nice, but even with that most people won’t be doing it, it’s not running on the iNat platform, and that’s only good for whatever hardware you set it up on. I, for example, use iNat on three different computers (home, work, and travel) and two mobile devices. A tutorial like the one you linked only really applies to one of those devices, unless I want to replicate it on the other two computers, and then go through the steps to make it run web hosted so that I can access it via a mobile device too.

A lot of folks only use iNat from their mobile devices, so for them a tutorial approach like that isn’t relevant.

Personally, I use iNat data for my area outside of iNat often, usually in ArcGIS, as it has conservation uses for us, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Another advantage of having an ecoregion overlay option is for users to get a better understanding of their area and the differences they may see in it. One of the stated goals of iNat is to facilitate a greater understanding of and interaction with nature, so this fits perfectly with that, and it’s a bit surprising that it wasn’t already implemented.

4 Likes

I add all my Cape Peninsula obs to this project - where we are asked to add the ecoregion. Scientists KNOW where the invisible lines are, I don’t.

https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/habitats-s-afr

Ecoregions are relevant to iNatters. Political and historical boundaries are practical, but not relevant to biology. Think of the ‘Scramble for Africa’ and how it splits people thru their common languages.

3 Likes

I think it would be helpful and better than nothing but not as complete as having an actual place as a filter.

it’s not that i don’t understand why some folks might want to see observations in context. i just don’t believe that a large portion of the iNat community will benefit from having ecoregions specifically built into the system, especially considering the cost to implement.

you have to have at least the standard map with political boundaries, streets, water bodies, etc. as part of a system that uses location at its core. the topo lines and the alternate aerial view are useful, too, to help place an observation accurately, especially when there are no streets, water, etc. nearby.

but ecoregions are just a nice-to-have.

also consider that the ecoregions that you might find useful aren’t necessarily the ones i might want to use. maybe i’m in the US, and i want to use the level IV EPA ecoregions. or maybe i want to look at things at a higher level II. or maybe i’m working worldwide, and so i default to the level III-equivalent WWF ecoregions… or should i use Nature Conservancy’s adjusted ecoregions (which claim to fix a few problems with the WWF set)?

maybe i’m a botanist in California, and i don’t care about EPA ecoregions and instead want Jepson’s bioregions so that i can align with their keys, etc.

or maybe i think that ecoregions are outdated now that USGS’s Ecological Land Units exist. (personally, i like the ELUs, since they show where urban land cover is.)

which region set(s) do you add to iNat?

just for fun, i added a new “ecolandunit” view to my web map with a USGS ELU overlay and a pop-up that will return the USGS ELU details when you click on an observation, as shown below, based on https://jumear.github.io/stirfry/iNat_map.html?view=ecolandunit&taxon_id=47727&defaultzoom=2 :

the tutorial shows how to do things in multiple tools, including ArcGIS Online, which is cloud-based. so you can set something up on your computer and view it later from another computer or mobile device, as long as it has an internet connection.

or you can use my web map (or your own adaptation of it), and that’s also available on whatever device you want to use, as long as it has a web browser.

4 Likes

Interesting, I will definitely take a look. One thought I had is to let zoom detemine whether you look at the Level II/III/IV Ecoregions (just like you get more detail on other map features when you zoom in), but obviously iNat would need something that works globally, so I would think WWF or Nature Conservancy options might work - I’m not going to be upset about one set vs. another.

2 Likes

ecolandunit link would not load with colon

the link is fixed. i also updated the map to show Ecological Facet (a more detailed unit), along with Ecological Land Unit, and reformatted the pop-up a bit so that you can click on either EF or ELU to get more details.

it’s worth noting that the USGS service in some cases can return ecosystem information (similar to ecoregion), too, but i haven’t implemented that (yet) because it would take more time to study how that works than i’m interested in devoting right now. but folks are welcome implement it and make a pull request in the GitHub repo if they want to take a stab at it.

1 Like

Also adding the Freshwater ecoregions would be a useful addition as well, especially since not all of them line up with their nearby terrestrial ecoregions.

1 Like

Out of votes, but supporting. Reminds me of when I wanted a way to find unknowns along coastlines.

1 Like

i implemented this just now. the extra ecosystem info should show up for the US, South America, and Africa. the map now also shows an overlay with the USGS’s color-coded representation of the Ecological Land Units.

by the way, here’s how the area near Gettysburg, PA, looks, with an extra USGS Hydro overlay turned on to show streams and maples shown as green pins:

compare that to:

5 Likes