What is iNat's wish list for observations?

I’m thinking of getting more active on iNat. I don’t want to waste the time of the volunteers who make IDs here, and I’d like to make observations that could be useful as data. iNat doesn’t give any guidance on the types of observations that it most wants. For example:

  • Are certain organism categories generally underrepresented here (Fungi? Insects? Native plants?)
  • Are there local projects that have needs? I saw a list of iNat projects in my area, but many of them are out of date (eg previous BioBlitzes) or are closed (eg school projects).
  • Are certain locations within my county underreported?
  • Are observations of the common organisms we all commonly see just clutter that waste the time of volunteers, or do they add useful data for large scale trends?

As an observer, right now I’m a generalist, not an expert. But I’m willing to dig in if there is a need.

Any guidance would be great.

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I think that if you want to be more active on iNat, it should be because you have increased your interest in the natural world around you and think the website is an elegant way to document your findings, and not as an obligation to fulfil the “needs” of those who use the website to collect data or to close to close the observational gaps that you mention as “the types of observations that it most wants”.

It is important to acknowledge that everyone has their own personal reasons for using the website. Going by that philosophy, if you do want to fill in those observational gaps you have mentioned, all I can do is to encourage you down the rabbit hole you dove into. Who knows, maybe you will find a new favourite iNatting spot, or gain an interest in a new taxon?

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People rarely make observations of fish compared to other vertebrates, and in general look on the overall map of observations to see if there are “holes” where people do not have very much data. If you live in a rural area, particularly one without a university nearby, that will be quite helpful.

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As above, it has to be something that interests you. You might find it changes with the seasons as well. I generally focus on arthropods, but I find myself turning to birds in the winter! In terms of the things iNat lacks good observations of, generally the smaller or more inaccesible it is the fewer observations there are - but this then depends on your capabilities.

One fantastic way to be more involved in iNat is to do more identification - and it’s fun for the learning. You don’t have to identify the species, you could go through observations with no ID and push them into Plants, Insects or whatever, as far as you are confident. Or if you know a bit about plants you could go through ‘Dicots’ and put them in the right family, for example. Then you get to see how the observations get identified further through your notifications.

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Common observations can absolutely be useful for research. Check out this article about a school superintendent who over 100 years ago got his students to report the first flower they saw every spring. He did this for 23 years. His research and the observations of the students are still being used today.
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/alexander-mackay-climate-change-children-science-1.5063352

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For being the second largest phylum (and most diverse phylum as far as body plans go), we have very few mollusk observations. Terrestrial gastropods especially have very restricted ranges and are often at high risk of extirpation. They usually aren’t hard find or photograph, but you do need to look closely to find them. Then again, we don’t really have enough IDers to handle more mollusk observations…

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I’m not sure how I would photo fish, since I don’t do any sport fishing and can’t shoot underwater easily. But if I run into any fisherman on my nature walks, maybe they could show me what they’ve caught and I could photo that. Will keep fish in mind.

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I do a lot of birding, but photography is a challenge without a major lens upgrade. I did some ID work here today and will do more. Thanks for the reminder that and ID doesn’t have to get down to species level to be useful.

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That was a great article (with a slightly depressing outcome). So I’ll document common and rare alike.I just didn’t want to waste the valuable time of the volunteers with photos of mallards, dandelions, etc if those aren’t especially useful. But they have their place, it sounds like.

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I would not have though to look for mollusks, so that’s interesting. I know I’ve seen a lot of small ones in the garden, but will look for them on my nature walks. Macro shots are very doable. Thanks for the suggestion.

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Thats great! I saw the first crocus of the spring yesterday here in Montana and made an obs for it specifically for this reason even though I don’t usually intentionally do captive ones. Am keeping my eyes peeled for first wild flower.

Also, I saw blooming strawberries in two different locations in the mountains of Montana on October 10 and October 30th last year, which seems crazy but I doubt theres any good comparison dataset for the last blooming flower of a given species in a year. But over time things like inat observations of common things could perhaps start to build such a dataset up statistically.

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You can always create your own project. Every now and then I go out and set up a simple trap for insects. It’s just two disposable cups buried in the dirt with something like a rock or piece of wood above it about an inch. Then I go back every day and document what falls in. Sometimes it’s fun to run your own “research” for your area.

There are lots of holes in scientific data due to sampling bias. There have been discussions on here before, but I think you could use this as a quick rule of thumb for whether something isn’t represented well on iNat:

1 - Does it require effort to find?
2 - Does it require expertise to identify?
3 - Is it something people generally overlook?

If one or more of those things are true, then there probably aren’t as many observations on here as there “should” be.

Very few of us on here are true experts, but that’s not the point. You’re clearly well-intentioned and inspired by nature, go experiment until you find something you enjoy making observations of, and do your best!

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Someone once told me that municipalities use observations to see what parks and other areas are being used and used for study of nature. They may also use personal property observations within their municipality to see who is interested and what they are finding. So, to keep that in mind, you might think about frequenting your favorite local parks, especially the ones not normally used for nature. Then, if anyone is planning improvements they will know what natural things are there and whether the money is worth it. Plus, it would show them that people are interested in the nature and not just the sports fields and picnic tables. If you are concerned about the time or space your observations take up, and you use iNat a lot, with a lot of your own pictures, you could also consider donating ten or fifteen dollars at the end of the year as that will help cover expenses with photos. Do not feel obligated to do this, but if you personally get a lot out of the platform, it is something to think about. I was here for several years before I wanted to donate but I now have nearly 5000 observations. I also try to avoid the most common things when I observe in the same place over and over, except when there is a bioblitz, my most fun time of all.

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Do what you like, especially in taxa, but one thing that can be useful is explore areas with no observations, it can be a street in a town or faraway spot in a forest, but it does worth it going there even if not many species can be found.

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I agree with all the previous replies. A few old threads that might spark an area of interest for you:

Spring Challenge: find oak bud and flower galls

Go find hickory galls!

Ask a Bumblebee - public survey project of plants and bees

I don’t fish either but I’ve found that I can get some decent photos of aquatic organisms in shallow water that have been identified here. And I’ve asked people fishing if I could photograph their fish. I don’t ask everyone I see fishing… just those I strike up a conversation with.

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I think for most us, the wish list just comes down to please take some care with your photos (ie, clear and cropped) to make it easier on the identifiers.

As to observation holes not being filled, if I may throw in another way to look at that, Bumble Bees are pretty commonly uploaded on iNat, but in my county I am the only regular observer with close to 90% of the observations being mine. A shame because the conservation district here is very interested in Bumble Bees. So even if you want to upload something commonly reported, it may not be commonly locally reported.

Another option would be to call your local city park, county conservation district ect, and ask them what they are looking for, might be a chance to learn a new local taxon, and contribute data to the people caring for the habitat.

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Please - come across to the other side. Find an URL that works for you (mine are Cape Peninsula, Western Cape and Africa) and help ID Unknowns. We have obs but we would like more identifiers. It can be as simple as Lepidoptera or Fungi (or wherever your knowledge and interest lie). Anything to help funnel obs towards a waiting identifier.

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In addition to the suggestions already made, I’d also like to add: Whatever you document, try to take several pictures. As photographers would say, work the subject, get different angles, e.g. in addition to a flower get the underside as well, plus the stem, leaves, underside of leaves etc. It may take more time per observation but makes them easier to confirm IDs. Some species can only be ID’d conclusively if certain key features are shown, and it can take a little while to learn what might be needed for each group/species.

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Welcome to the Forum!
As @robotpie says, there is no ‘need’ involved in observations. Do whatever you want! Or as @dianastuder says, join the dark side - Identification. iNat has all sorts, from the late Finatic who made thousands of observations, to folks who have no observations but thousands of identifications. Mess around a bit, and find what it is you enjoy, from taxa to identifications. Each of us has our own interests, and you need to find yours, whether it be birds, mollusks, or a specific species of whatever.
All I can add is that in terms of ‘need’, underpopulated areas are a blank for the most part. But unless you are a determined ‘explorer’ willing to traverse the wilderness of Northern Canada to explore the northernmost range of a moth or something, those regions will likely stay sparse in terms of observations.
Just learn, and have fun doing it!

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Lots of good answers in a similar vein above and I would echo most of them in saying; whatever interests you! iNat is primarily about encouraging people to engage with nature so whatever you are uploading is great. Uploading good quality observations (cropping, in focus, showing different aspects of the organism) will be particularly helpful to identifiers.

If you want to be more active on iNat then I would second @dianastuder in saying join the identifiers! There’s many more observers that identifiers and even just identifying unknowns in an area will help. I’ve been trying to identify more recently and not only am I learning a lot but it also helps me with what to look for next time I go out observing.

My main interest is sea slugs but since joining iNat the observations that have caused the most excitement are of things that I almost overlooked or didn’t photograph. So I just try to photograph everything!

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