When is it worth it to advance an ID

I recently started IDing from a new search, specifically US plants at the Plantae rank. Its a huge volume of observations >200,000 strong (compared to ~150,000 unknowns for the area) that is loaded with older stagnant observations.

I find myself consistently being able to move an observation to genus or species level about 25% of the time, and that is the level I have been shooting for generally. But when I do this I breeze by tons of observations I could put at a higher level. If I just IDed to Class I could probably place >95% of of observations, and at family level I think I could get a little more than half. At what point do other IDers find it is useful to advance an observation versus it generally being a waste of time.

Personally I don’t see much reason to ID to class from kingdom, but I am really on the fence about family. When I’m keying stuff getting to family without a key, or only pulling from one family is very helpful, meanwhile it seems that a load of my older unknown IDs I brought to family have stagnated there. Do others feel that IDing to family is useful, or should I just stick to the more frequently checked Genus and Species ranks?


Do whatever you find satisfying, but all IDs that help narrow the CID are helpful.


It always worth it if you know what it is little bit more precise than a current id and if you’re ready to spend time on that, it’s all about your willingness and knowledge.


Personally I would skip an observation if my only contribution would be refining it from “plant” to “monocot”, since doing so would likely irritate some community members, especially if done in huge batches. That said, there’s nothing strictly incorrect about refining it only a little.

From “plant” to family though, I think that is very helpful.


I don’t ID plants much, but I would think IDing to family would be pretty helpful. I feel like a lot of specialists search at the family level, so I could see this really helping to make progress on those observations.

I’d personally avoid spending a lot of time intentionally IDing at levels much higher than that, but if you enjoy it, go for it!


I agree that identifying to family can be very helpful. People sometimes search on families. Although I do apply the labels “monocots” or “dicots,” I think that doesn’t help people find observations better than “flowering plants.”


For plants, IDing from class rank to family rank can also be quite helpful. Both monocots and dicots contain a tremendous amount of diversity, so both those groups have a real jumble of observations.

Disagreements between IDs tend to bring observations back to these ranks, so by looking at the class rank, you’ll also sometimes be improving those observations, which is nice.


A lot of insect identifiers seem to focus on Pterygota, so even refining class to subclass there can be helpful.


Well “useful” is in the eye of the beholder (or identifier in this case) but recently I learned that family is the highest taxonomic rank included in the training set. This has influenced my behavior…if I can’t identify family or lower, it’s probably not worth my time (but there are exceptions of course).


This came up twice in this thread already (and it comes up regularly in various guises) but who knows if this is true in general? I mean, what taxonomic ranks do identifiers search on? Similarly, what taxonomic ranks do people subscribe to? I’m guessing only the developers know the answers to these questions. If everyone knew this, it would give substance to our beliefs and inform our actions.


I did a poll a while ago asking roughly that question. It wasn’t the best-built poll, but plant identifiers tend to focus on Tribe or below, with some looking at Family, a few at Class, and then a bunch at Kingdom.

Poll here.

Personally I do filter for dicots, but most don’t.


I suppose I don’t actually know if many people search on plant families. I sometimes do. I was emphatically corrected by an African botanist for adding any names above family level, on the grounds that family and below are the levels people search on.

I know that in actual field botany, knowing the family is an important first step. Many (most?) floras are arranged by plant family.

So I recommend narrowing down plant identifications to family if you can.


It’s nice to see so many positive response from people who’s notifications I’m flooding.

I think about this a lot, I’m always happy to find something I can put to Veronica or Euphorbia because those genera always seem to be refined fairly regularly but Asteraceae almost never moves. That being said I had someone advance a bunch of Brassicaceae IDs not too long ago from a specific area, so maybe its just a matter of the right expertise, the right place, and the right general ID. It would be really interesting to see how long the average ID stays at a level before being called good enough or advancing.


I’m only one, and at 9k IDs not really a “power” user, and an animal person instead of plants, and I assume you don’t want a flood of people actually chiming in with their individual answers, but for what it’s worth:

I’m a robber fly expert. I usually search at family (Asilidae) for my daily cleanup, and genus or species when I’m working on a project. About once a month I’ll pop up a level to superfamily (Asiloidea, with the minimum set to epifamily) so I can scan for observations languishing within the clade of reasonably related flies that were bumped up by family-level disagreement.


It is very useful to do, many botanists don’t id mosses and algae, so they won’t set up their filters to Plants.


Sorry I don’t have the name, but someone on iNat is busy with Asteraceae taxonomy - so those will move a little faster.
And another who is working on African grasses.
Family definitely helps.


Thank you for this, I appreciate it, but my point (as you know) is that the developers know the true answers to these questions, so we don’t have to guess or estimate. So please, consider this as an open request to the developers (through the moderators) to provide answers to the following questions:

  1. What taxonomic ranks do identifiers search on?
  2. What taxonomic ranks do users subscribe to?

Thanks in advance.


Personally, I think you should id to whatever level interests you and that you find motivating to continue id’ing. There are always new people joining who may id some area that has been stagnant. Conversely, sometimes people stop or slow down their ids of an area that they had previously been very on top of. It’s not possible to predict the future, so do what makes you happy now.


A team is writing a checklist book on the plants of my county, and those of us helping assisted by going through all the county iNat records of plants family by family. So the stuff above family wasn’t reviewed, but pretty much everything from family down was. If we saw anything uncommon or otherwise of note we sent it along to the book’s main author.


So as a very hobbyist botanist but someone who has a good time using iNat to learn, I definitely appreciate getting an ID down to family if I’ve left it higher (e.g. “angiosperms” or “lamiales”). It’s common that I’ll try to ID a plant at home after a day mucking about. Plenty of times my photos are all I have to go on, so I can get stuck.

Two pertinent situations immediately come to mind where family is very useful:
-Sometimes as a hobbyist the CV (or CV plus your knowledge) gives you two good candidates that are unrelated but convergent evolution has made look similar. Family can help, especially if I don’t know the thing to look for to distinguish between the two.

-I’ve run across several where the CV suggestion isn’t reliable—seeds markedly different from reference photos, wrong number of stamens, whatever—but without something else to go on. Having a user ID to family can let me do more investigating. Sometimes I might also remember pertinent features not visible in the photos (e.g. some snowberries are, per Jepson e-flora, distinguishable by the size of the shrub) which allows for a tighter ID.