November 23, 2020

A Fish with a Head Full of Cirri in Canada - Observation of the Week, 11/23/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Chirolophis decoratus fish, seen in Canada by @leftcoaster!

“My first memory of being keenly aware of an interest in nature was when my mom took me to the beach when I was 8,” recalls Kathleen Reed. “The tide was out and we found all sorts of Lewis’s Moonsnail egg collars in the intertidal zone. I thought they looked like rubber - not something that an animal would create - and I was in awe when I found out what they actually were. I’ve enjoyed ocean environments ever since.”

While snorkeling in Thailand, Kathleen found that most of the really cool animals - sharks, turtles, rays, etc - were too deep for her to get a good look at. She signed up for a “try diving” outing with the local dive shop and “within the first few minutes of that ocean dive, I was hooked - the amazing critters, the ‘popping’ sound of corals, the sense of calm underwater - it was seeing a world I never knew existed.” She got certified as soon as she returned home and is now a divemaster with 450 dives under belt.

This past June, Kathleen went diving at the RivTow Lion, a sunken tugboat in the territorial waters of the Snuneymuxw Nation (Nanaimo, BC, Canada).

The ship had a wooden railing, which has rotted away over time and left perfect habitat for Decorated Warbonnets (Chirolophis decoratus). They don’t seem to have any natural predators on the ship, so they grow quite big, [about 15 inches (38 cm) in length]. I love looking for their very distinctive cirri sticking out of various nooks and crannies. On the dive I took this photo, I found 7 of them.

A species that ranges from northwestern Russia and down the Pacific Coast of North America to Humboldt Bay, Chirolophis decoratus do have those incredible cirri protruding from head, which may serve to either help them blend in to their surrounds and/or attract potential prey - which are mostly small invertebrates. It can be found hiding among seaweed, rocks, and various other crevices and cover objects.

Although she only joined iNat about a month ago, Kathleen (above, with a Giant Pacific Octopus) says “the community is the best part; I’ve learned so much from members like @anudibranchmom, @phelsumas4life, @msnewel, @mac-e, @rfields, @estehr, @sebastophile

They’ve helped me to learn how to distinguish types of fish, crabs, and nudibranchs that all looked the same to me before. They’ve also updated me on some of the recent science that’s happened with nudibranchs; I had no idea the extent to which my print ID books were outdated.

Aside from enjoying the iNaturalist community’s knowledge, I really love having something to do with the photos I take while scuba diving. Prior to iNaturalist, they were just sitting on my hard drive. Now I can post them, keep track of what I see and where, and contribute to research and conservation projects like tracking Sea Star Wasting Disease.

iNaturalist has definitely made me more focussed on what nature is around me wherever I am. Even if I’m out running errands, I’ll be on the lookout for a tree or a bug I don’t know. It’s also inspired me to get better at identifying land-based nature. Being a diver, I was pretty focused on just the ocean before.


- The story behind the octopus photo, from Kathleen. The photo was taken by Shane Gross. “I was focussed on looking into a crevice in the rock wall, when I saw my dive buddy’s light flashing frantically. I turned around quickly, and all I saw was tentacles coming at me. It was a large male Giant Pacific Octopus, and he was very curious. My dive buddy captured the moment I first spotted the octopus. I immediately backed off, and after the octopus came toward me tentatively a few times, he returned to hunting. We watched him from a respectful distance for 30 minutes, marvelling at his colour changing and ability to “blanket” over rocks and rummage around for food.”

- Some nice facts about and footage of Chirolophis decoratus in this video.

- Take a look at this beach in Australia, covered with egg collars of the moon snail genus Conuber.

Posted on November 23, 2020 22:29 by tiwane tiwane | 8 comments | Leave a comment

November 16, 2020

A Kenyan Marine Conservationist Finds a Brilliantly Acanthocercus Lizard - Observation of the Week, 11/16/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Acanthocercus sp. lizard, seen in Kenya by @gurveena!

Gurveena Ghataure, a wildlife conservation manager with Fauna & Flora International (FFI), credits her childhood in Kenya for her lifelong interest in nature and conservation, and feels fortunate she was able to encounter so much wildlife at a young age. And having family members around go teach her about nature was helpful as well.

My childhood is all wrapped up in my grandad's binoculars and I can still smell that smell from its leather case and our VW combi in which we did all our trips around the country. I loved seeing wildlife and being out in the wild savannah plains. I used to see giraffes and zebras on my way to school and that never got old! I loved following dung beetles or collecting ladybirds at school and bringing them home.

After attending university in the United Kingdom, Gurveena spent seven years doing conservation work in southeast Asia, including four years in Myanmar with FFI. “Living in Asia was incredible,” she says, “and I got to see so much incredible wildlife - through work but also a lot of it through personal travel. All my travel tends to be focused around seeing a particular species or a type of habitat and the creatures in there! I have a bucket list....which is never ending.”

She’s now managing a marine conservation project in the north coast of Kenya, working with a local NGO and involving the community protecting coastal habitats and small scale fisheries. That’s where she came across the brilliantly colored lizard you see above. “I recently relocated to Lamu for my job and found a house to rent - transitions always being strange,” she says, 

I spotted this lizard in my garden on my first day and it made me so excited. I have been trying to get better at identifying insects and reptiles - particularly lizards. I started keeping track of it and would find it most days around the same trees - that morning it was looking incredibly bright and I think it was trying to court a female and so I took a picture of it.

Lizards of the genus Acanthocercus are found in Africa and the Arabian peninsula, and can be found around human habitation. Like other lizards, males especially can change their coloration as a way to signal to other lizards such as females or rival males. 

“I generally love looking for any wildlife,” says Gurveena (above). “My friends joke that I will get lost following the smallest beetles when we go for a walk.” She uses iNat to log her finds for others to see, and to get ID help. She has a soft spot for marine life and bats, but tells me 

I also like to champion the underdog species that tend to get overlooked. I worked with an amazing conservationist who really inspired that and was a huge influence in my life.

I always knew i wanted to work in conservation as even in my childhood growing up in Kenya - I noticed things were changing with habitats and species. The natural world is incredible and I feel we need to engage everyone to fall in love with nature and appreciate all the things, from the big species, to all the trees, to the little bugs and the fungi in the ground.


- You can follow Gurveena on Twitter and Instagram!

- A Southern Tree Agama makes quick work of two insects.


[11/17/20 - The iNat community has weighed in on the ID of the observation since this was posted and there is disagreement at the species level so I've updated the text and title. I'm just using the genus level ID now.]

Posted on November 16, 2020 21:45 by tiwane tiwane | 8 comments | Leave a comment

November 10, 2020

Students in a Uruguay Natural Resources Management Program Find a Gorgeous Orchid - Observation of the Week, 11/10/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Bipinnula montana orchid, seen in Uruguay by @mateoalmada!

The remarkable orchid you see above is one of our most popular recent Observations of the Day, if one goes by social media engagement, and it was seen not only by Mateo Almada but his fellow students in the Universidad del Trabajo de Uruguay’s Degree in Natural Areas Management program. I’d like to thank @flo_grattarola for getting me in touch with Professor Matías Zarucki (@mattzarrr, below), who in turn looped in Mateo.

Students in the Natural Areas Management program train to be park rangers, and Matías tells me 

we use ​iNaturalist as a tool for the registration and identification of species during our field activities. We believe that this is a good didactic tool to motivate students and, at the same time, generate valuable information for the knowledge of biodiversity. In addition to the specific records of our field trips, we created a ​project where we document the biodiversity in two of the school grounds that we visit most often.

Field trips have unfortunately been curtailed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but in recent months the students and professors were able to restart them due to Uruguay’s generally successful containment of the virus. For example, here they are at Grutas de Salamanca.

The group visited an archaeological site in the state of Maldonado, and Mateo recalls 

The field trip objective was to visit the place and assess the conservation status of the forest. On October 27, during a walk on the hills, we were attentive, appreciating the fauna and flora, and when something caught our attention, we stopped to observe it. It was then when I appreciated the ​Bipinnula montana​. I photographed it and at night I shared it in the application, I didn’t expect the impact it had. I'm happy because it puts my country on the map on something other than football.

What impressed me the most when I saw it was the shape of the tongue with the little hairs and the ribs of the leaf that surrounded it. I felt compelled to capture that beauty with my phone and it become my first plant record in iNat.

Unfortunately, not much is known about this species (“The lack of information represents here one of the problems for biodiversity conservation,” says Mateo), but we do know it grows in both Brazil and Uruguay, and generally grows on dry grasslands. 

Mateo (above), tells me “I have always admired and photographed nature a lot, [and iNaturalist] allows me to save my records in an album where I collect the richness of our biodiversity...

Through the application, I have learned about the importance of collecting information about our flora and fauna to provide data that can be of great help to researchers and natural resources managers. It's great because it is an application that reaches all audiences where anyone with a simple photo can collaborate a lot with the community.


- Here’s a project showing observations made for in the program’s two commonly-visited sites.

- A nice video (en Español) about the University’s Natural Resources Careers program

- Take a gander at other observations of this good looking genus.

Posted on November 10, 2020 20:43 by tiwane tiwane | 20 comments | Leave a comment

November 04, 2020

Tallying Amphibians from the United States, Canada, and Mexico

Our recent post about reaching 300,000 species raised some interesting questions about how long it will take for iNaturalist to log all species for various groups in various locations. This is difficult to do for many groups and locations because of taxonomic issues. One group that’s fairly well known, at least in North America, is amphibians. The number of amphibian species observed on iNaturalist in the United States, Canada, and Mexico does seem to be saturating.

But how many species remain? We wrote a post on this for Amphibians in the United States three years ago and counted 13 missing species. We re-crunched these numbers again for the United States as well as Canada and Mexico which together make up the three most observose countries on iNaturalist.

In the United States, all but one of those missing 13 species has been found. We now count that 316 of 318 species thought to occur in the United States are represented on iNaturalist by at least one verifiable observation. The two missing species are Blanco Blind Salamander (Eurycea robusta) and Reticulated Siren (Siren reticulata). The former is only known from a single specimen found in Texas 40 years ago and the latter is a species recently described from Georgia and Alabama two years ago.

In Canada, we count that all 48 of 48 species thought to occur in Canada are represented on iNaturalist by at least one verifiable observation. We’re counting these based on observations anywhere in the world, not just in Canada, and there are no amphibian species endemic to Canada (i.e. found nowhere else in the world) so this makes sense given our numbers from the United States.

In Mexico, only 300 of 424 species are represented on iNaturalist (71%). While there are fewer observations from Mexico than the United States on iNaturalist, this is also driven by a large number of Mexican species with extremely small ranges. Many are only known from one or two sites.

For example, in the State of Tamaulipas 3 species that haven’t been observed on iNaturalist occur. All three are endemic to Mexico. They are:
Graceful Splayfoot Salamander (Chiropterotriton cracens)
Tamaulipan Arboreal Robber Frog (Craugastor batrachylus)
Dennis' Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus dennisi)

Tamaulipan Arboreal Robber Frog (Craugastor batrachylus) is also found in Querétaro where it represents the only species that occurs in Querétaro that hasn't yet been observed. Chihuahua, Morelos, Distrito Federal and Tlaxcala also each have one species that hasn't been observed. They are:
Lemos-Espinal's Leopard Frog (Lithobates lemosespinali) (Chihuahua)
Morelos False Brook Salamander (Pseudoeurycea altamontana) (Morelos & Distrito Federal)
Roberts's Tree Frog (Sarcohyla robertsorum) (Tlaxcala)
Jalisco has four species that haven't been observed. Two of them can also be found in Colima. They are:
Jalisco Trilling Frog (Eleutherodactylus jaliscoensis)
Sierra Manatlán Trilling Frog (Eleutherodactylus manantlanensis)
Colima Shiny Peeping Frog (Eleutherodactylus orarius)
Sierra Huichol Peeping Frog (Eleutherodactylus wixarika)

In Hidalgo, we can also find Roberts's Tree Frog (Sarcohyla robertsorum) as well as the following three species:
Cave Splayfoot Salamander (Chiropterotriton mosaueri)
Least Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus verruculatus)
Puebla Tree Frog (Sarcohyla charadricola)

While we are missing no species from some states like Sonora and Sinaloa, 6 other states have more than 5 missing species. These states tend to be in the mountainous tropical parts of the country and are as follows:

Michoacán (6 species):
Ambystoma amblycephalum
Eleutherodactylus erendirae
Eleutherodactylus floresvillelai
Eleutherodactylus nietoi
Eleutherodactylus orarius
Lithobates dunni

Puebla (10 species):
Chiropterotriton casasi
Craugastor galacticorhinus
Eleutherodactylus verruculatus
Lithobates pueblae
Megastomatohyla nubicola
Sarcohyla charadricola
Thorius dubitus
Thorius magnipes
Thorius maxillabrochus
Thorius schmidti

Veracruz (16 species):
Aquiloeurycea praecellens
Chiropterotriton casasi
Chiropterotriton nubilus
Chiropterotriton perotensis
Chiropterotriton totonacus
Ecnomiohyla valancifer
Eleutherodactylus verruculatus
Isthmura corrugata
Lithobates chichicuahutla
Megastomatohyla nubicola
Pseudoeurycea granitum
Sarcohyla pachyderma
Sarcohyla siopela
Thorius dubitus
Thorius magnipes
Thorius narismagnus

Chiapas (12 species):
Charadrahyla chaneque
Craugastor amniscola
Craugastor brocchi
Craugastor matudai
Craugastor pozo
Craugastor taylori
Dendrotriton megarhinus
Dendrotriton rabbi
Exerodonta chimalapa
Plectrohyla pycnochila
Pseudoeurycea brunnata
Ptychohyla dendrophasma

Guerrero (19 species):
Bolitoglossa coaxtlahuacana
Craugastor uno
Eleutherodactylus erythrochomus
Exerodonta melanomma
Incilius cycladen
Pseudoeurycea ahuitzotl
Pseudoeurycea amuzga
Pseudoeurycea kuautli
Pseudoeurycea mixcoatl
Pseudoeurycea tenchalli
Pseudoeurycea teotepec
Quilticohyla erythromma
Sarcohyla chryses
Sarcohyla floresi
Sarcohyla mykter
Sarcohyla toyota
Thorius grandis
Thorius hankeni
Thorius infernalis

Oaxaca (39 species):
Bolitoglossa oaxacensis
Bolitoglossa riletti
Charadrahyla chaneque
Charadrahyla esperancensis
Craugastor polymniae
Craugastor silvicola
Craugastor uno
Ecnomiohyla echinata
Exerodonta chimalapa
Exerodonta melanomma
Ixalotriton parvus
Megastomatohyla mixe
Megastomatohyla pellita
Pseudoeurycea anitae
Pseudoeurycea aquatica
Pseudoeurycea obesa
Pseudoeurycea orchileucos
Pseudoeurycea papenfussi
Pseudoeurycea smithi
Pseudoeurycea unguidentis
Sarcohyla calvicollina
Sarcohyla celata
Sarcohyla cembra
Sarcohyla crassa
Sarcohyla cyanomma
Sarcohyla cyclada
Sarcohyla labedactyla
Sarcohyla miahuatlanensis
Sarcohyla psarosema
Sarcohyla sabrina
Thorius aureus
Thorius boreas
Thorius insperatus
Thorius longicaudus
Thorius minutissimus
Thorius narisovalis
Thorius pinicola
Thorius pulmonaris
Thorius tlaxiacus

This exercise is a reminder that in tropical regions such as many of Mexican states, its not just that there are often more species than in temperate regions but that many species often have much smaller ranges. As a result, observing them requires observations from all corners of the country. We're fortunate to have many very knowledgeable Mexican amphibian identifiers (e.g. @cris-tzabcan, @coatzin_tutor, @yamaneko, @eligarcia-padilla, @opuntia24, @josecamx, @pedro_nahuat, @jhvaldez_tutor, @lucareptile, @rene_vela, @sonoran) and observers who have seen many Mexican amphibian species (e.g. @alejandrocalzada, @juancruzado, @eligarcia-padilla, @wouterbeukema, @pedro_nahuat, @jesusrc7, @horacio_barcenas, @el_neotropico, @esauvaldenegro, @alejandromijangosbetanzos, @oscarleonardo32, @sandboa, @cris-tzabcan, @dianafr) participating in iNaturalist/Naturalista.mx. It will be interesting to see how much longer it takes to find these missing Mexican amphibian species.

Posted on November 04, 2020 01:18 by loarie loarie | 18 comments | Leave a comment

November 02, 2020

This Microscopic Ciliate Was Found on a Copepod in France - Observation of the Week, 11/2/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Trichodina domerguei ciliate, seen in France by @plingfactory!

“Taking samples for a microscope is like a surprise bag,” says Michael Plewka, “you never know what you will find!” Focused on marine biology and coral ecology in college, Michael is now a high school teacher in western Germany and has changed his area of study from marine to limnic life thanks to an artificial pond he and his students monitor. “So now I am studying the life  of small organisms living in water, soil and mosses in Germany and other European countries,” he tells me, and he works with other microscopy enthusiasts at organizations like Berliner Mikroskopische Gesellschaft.

And of course when Michael travels, the microscope equipment comes along. “Whenever I have holidays my focus is either on looking for small critters in tropical marine environments,” he says, “or taking my microscope somewhere and watching the organisms that I can find.”

You can find the most interesting organisms in the most boring environments where you don't expect to be life at all, like for example old industrial buildings. The vicinity of a nearby-airport in our region has some of the most fascinating and rare microscopic organisms.

In May of 2014, while on holiday in France’s Bretagne (Brittany) region, he took a plankton sample from a pond in the city of Bourg-Blanc. “The pond itself was not very spectacular,

[but] interestingly enough it turned out that there were similar organisms (same genera) as in ponds in Germany, but different species. And then I found some small critters moving around a copepod. I knew from our observations in our school pond that a similar protist (Trichodina pediculus) lives as a parasite on Hydra

While he didn’t have the correct literature with him at the time (rotifers are his specialty), Michael later identified the tiny ciliate as Trichodina domerguei, based on its number of denticles. Like other members of this genus, Trichodina domerguei attaches itself to a host (often fish) which it uses primarily as a substrate - its mouth faces out. Usually the ciliates don't harm their hosts, but they certainly can, especially if they attach to a sensitive part of the animal. You can check out Michael’s photo of the copepod host here

Michael (above, in The Netherlands) joined iNat at the urging of his colleague @rotiferologist, and has since been helping others identify their rotifer observations. “Taking adequate images from such small organisms is not that easy, so it is also not always easy to ID the specimens based on these photos alone, especially when it comes to the species level,” he says, “[but] thanks to the ever increasing power of smartphones which can be used at a microscope the situation might get better in the future.”

To Michael, “iNaturalist is a chance to communicate with people  who are interested in nature from all over the world. 

In times where it is necessary to be conscious of the fact that the activities of people on one continent have an effect on the life of people on other continents, iNaturalist is a great tool to connect people and to see that like-minded people are working together.


- Take a look at Michael's other photos on his website!

- Michael recommends this website as an excellent resource for identifying protists.

Posted on November 02, 2020 23:10 by tiwane tiwane | 7 comments | Leave a comment

October 29, 2020

A Mountaineer in Chile Records an Alpine Plant - (Belated) Observation of the Week, 9/14/20

[It took a few weeks for Gabriela to get back to me, so I’m posting this a bit late. - Tony]

Our (Belated) Observation of the Week is this Nassauvia pinnigera, seen in Chile by @gabyriela!

At the tail end of 2019, Gabriela Alejandra Anríquez Mauricio and her friends journeyed to the Volcán San José complex, about 90 km from Santiago, Chile. “It was the best gift I had last year,” she says. “[To] share that beautiful experience with four friends in the mountains, see its amazing nature (flora, a mysteriously large number of grasshoppers, birds, highland wetlands, penitent-shaped snows…).” 

And one member of that amazing flora is the plant you see above, Nassauvia pinnigera. A member of Family Asteraceae (sunflowers, daisies, and the like), this species grows at high elevations over 3,000 m (9,800 ft). I couldn’t find out too much about the species (if you have something to add, please do so in the comments!), but check out this photo of Gabriela photographing it below.

Gabriela studied environmental biology at Universidad de Chile, where her thesis work analyzed the risk of harmful algal blooms in Chiloé, an island off of southern Chile. And while she’s proud of the important work she did, she also says 

It still feels too far from nature and nature investigation (biology and ecology), involving a lot of literature reading and computer work, and little in the field.

For now I have been going outside with the intention of learning to identify what I see and hear and capture them in photographs (I have been learning photography) or recordings, and participating in a mountaineering club RAMUCH, [for which I am currently serving as Vice President].

Two of her friends, Daniela Pérez and Ariel Cabrera, introduced Gabriela (above) to iNaturalist, and while she’s only just started to post observations, she says “I'm really thankful to them because [iNaturalist incentivizes] sharing and sorting the observations that one has made in the field...iNaturalist and photography have been a great discovery for me, because I can see and learn deeper and share things I love with people who love them too.”

(Photos of Gabriela: Juan Pablo Cajigal (top) and Valentina Guevara (below))


- Take a gander at other observations of Nassauvia plants!

- Check out a past Observation of the Week of another beautiful Chilean flower growing out of rocks!

Posted on October 29, 2020 21:58 by tiwane tiwane | 12 comments | Leave a comment

October 27, 2020

A new kind of life list

We’re announcing a new way to explore your life list on iNaturalist. To explore the new tool, navigate to your lists and click on 'View My Life List' in the banner.

When you first open the Life List tool, the left panel has a list of all the taxa you’ve observed, organized by category. Note that each entry on your list isn’t necessarily a species but what we call “leaves,” meaning the finest taxonomic ranks represented by your observations (down to species). For example, if you observed a Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), and some kind of oak (genus Quercus), that would be two “leaves.” That’s why you might see genera listed alongside species. (Forgive us when we sometimes use the word “species” to avoid jargon when we really mean leaves.) The plain numbers next to each row represent the number of observations at or below that node. The numbers in the green circles represent the number of observations at exactly that taxonomic rank and not at a finer rank (ignoring subspecies). We’ll discuss the controls on the left side above the list later.

On the right panel you’ll see this same set of taxonomic leaves in grid form sorted by number of observations. If you change the “Sort” button on the right side to “taxonomic” the grid in the right panel will show the same entries in the same order as the list on the left panel.

If you click the “Observations” button on the right side, you’ll see the individual observations behind these species ordered by date added.

If you click on any name on the list in the left hand side, the species grid on the right hand side will restrict to just that taxon or category. You can also navigate around your list by entering a taxon in the search bar on the left side or choosing one of the iconic taxa.

If you click on one of the numbers on the left hand side, the right hand panel will be populated with the corresponding observations. Similarly, clicking on numbers in green circles will populate the right hand panel only with observations sitting at that node (e.g. excluding descendants).

The place filter on the right hand side will display only results from observations made in that place.

The “Unobserved Species” button will populate the right panel with species not on your life list that have been observed by others, either globally or within the selected place.

The “Export” button will export your life list in CSV format.

The “Tree View” button on the left hand side replaces the simplified list (grouped by selected categories) with a fuller taxonomic hierarchy. It excludes some ranks by default, but you can use the “View" button to toggle to the “Full taxonomy” if you’d like. In “Tree View,” clicking on the elements in the tree will expand and collapse the tree while the leaf (or binocular) icon focuses the right hand panel.

We hope you enjoy this new tool. If you want to support the development of new features like this, donations are always appreciated. Today, we've only added new functionality and haven't changed any existing functionality, but you can learn more about how this fits into future changes we’re making to existing list functionality on iNaturalist including original life lists here.

Posted on October 27, 2020 21:17 by loarie loarie | 81 comments | Leave a comment

Upcoming Changes to Lists

The the new life list tool we released today is completely separate from the existing list functionality on iNaturalist and the original entity known as a life list (from here on “original life list” to avoid confusion). Here, we describe how these existing lists work and some changes we’re planning to improve scalability as iNaturalist grows.

Part of the reason why the existing list functionality on iNaturalist is so complicated is that lists are used for many different things. For example, there are normal user lists, original life lists, traditional project lists, default place check lists, and other place check lists. We’ll describe these different kinds of lists in turn and how they act differently. But let’s start with the most straightforward and simplest kind: the normal user list.

Normal User Lists
A great example of a normal user list is the favorite taxa list you can display on your profile. To do this, you create a list called “Favorites” and add some taxa to it.

The taxa added to a list are stored in records called “listed taxa.” Each listed taxon has a description and comments and keeps track of “observation stats” which include the number of times you’ve observed the species and links to the first and last observation. The latter allows you to do things like filter the listed taxa that haven’t been observed.

Normal user lists are in many ways analogous to Guides on iNaturalist. They serve as ways for a user to create and maintain a list of taxa that (aside from the observation stats) don’t interact with observations.

Original Life Lists

When you create a normal user list, you have the option to “Make it a life list.” Checking this box means that the list will create listed taxa for any observation you’ve made. If you restrict to a higher-level taxon and/or a place (e.g. “Brazil Frogs”), it will only create listed taxa from observations of that taxon in that place.

You can still manually create and destroy listed taxa on original life lists independently of listed taxa being automatically created from your observations. And issues with original life lists being out of sync with observations has been a persistent point of confusion. Let's call this automatic listed taxa creation from observations functionality “auto-listing functionality” for short.

Traditional Project Lists

Traditional projects have a “must be on list” rule which is really just a shortcut for many “must be in taxon” rules. In fact, in the newer collection projects, we no longer bother with these lists and just allow users to add many “include taxa” project rules. Nonetheless, we still support traditional projects and thus still support traditional project lists to facilitate this ‘must be on list’ rule. They behave exactly like normal user lists (i.e. no auto-listing functionality) except that the observation stats are filled from observations in the project rather than observations made by the user.

Default Place Check Lists

When you create a place, you have the option to mark “check lists allowed”. Doing so will create a default check list for the place. Place check lists behave very much like original life lists in that they include auto-listing functionality from research grade observations made within the place. Likewise, people can manually create and destroy listed taxa independent of the observations made in the place. The observation stats are filled by observations made within the place.

Listed taxa on place check lists also store “establishment means” (e.g. native/introduced) for species in that place which is used throughout the site. Likewise, the listed taxa on standard place default checklists also determine the "presence places" in an atlas. The existence of an atlas for a species disables auto-listing functionality for that species on default checklists.

Other Place Check lists

In addition to the default place check list, places can have other check lists. They can be restricted to a higher-level taxon and they can be marked as “comprehensive” from the list edit page to indicate that all species in that higher-level taxon for the place are included in the list. Like the default place checklist, they also have auto-listing functionality.

Problems with Lists and Proposed changes

The two major problems with lists are that functionality to track observation stats and auto-listing functionality aren’t scaling well, meaning that as iNaturalist continues to grow the server requests this functionality generates are bogging down the performance of the site.

We’ve reviewed lists on iNaturalist and have determined that they basically serve two separate use cases:

1. The ability to view a set of observations in species list form

2. The ability to maintain a reference list of species (independent from observations) to add context to and compare with observations (e.g. establishment means, atlases, etc.)

We think we can better serve use case 1 with new dynamic tools viewing observations in list form like the new Life List tool we’re unveiling today. We plan to build an analogous new Place Check List tool to view the species observed in a place in list form. This will allow us to remove the problematic auto-listing functionality from all lists so that they can be more focused on serving use case 2: acting as an independent reference list to add context to observations.

We also plan to remove observation stats from listed taxa. We realize that this will remove functionality to compare what species on a list have been observed and which haven’t been observed - this is, for example, what controls the color (green means observed and yellow means unobserved) of the check list places on taxon maps. But, if there is demand for this kind of functionality to compare a list with a set of observations, we think we can build more scalable functionality to do so rather than the existing observation stats.

To be clear, we're not planning to remove any existing listed taxa. We are only planning to disable the auto-listing functionality and the functionality that maintains observations stats on listed taxa.

Here’s our proposed roll out of these changes:

Phase 1 (today):
Launch new dynamic life list tool

Phase 2 (next few weeks):
Remove original life lists (they will become normal user lists)
Remove observation stats from normal user lists and traditional project lists

Phase 3 (sometime in the next few months):
Launch new dynamic place check list tool

Phase 4 (sometime in the next few months):
Remove auto-listing functionality and observation stats from place check lists
Remove other place check lists (they will become normal user lists, leaving only a single optional default place check list for each place)

Posted on October 27, 2020 21:17 by loarie loarie | 9 comments | Leave a comment

A South African Nature Guide Spots a Bulb Baroe Plant - Observation of the Week, 10/27/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Cyphia bulbosa var. bulbosa plant, seen in South Africa by @trosoa!

Johan October grew up in South Africa, and as a child his uncle would take Johan and his cousin on weekend walks in the mountains. “He was always fascinated by all the flowers and plants and everything around him,” recalls Johan. He would tell the boys plant names and various medicinal uses for them. 

Being a boy of about eleven or twelve years old, I always thought in my mind, "Uncle, you're crazy!!! All the flowers and plants look the same to me, I don’t want to know this..." Little did I know, that what he introduced me to would one day become my interest, my passion, my love, my job.

Yes, Johan now works as a professional mountain guide and knows quite a bit about the Fynbos - knowledge which he then teaches to the guests who visit. He spotted the Cyphia bulbosa var. bulbosa plant in a special area of Table Mountain which requires a permit. Unfortunately his guests canceled, but he took some friends to the area and they were pretty excited to explore it. The plant was one of nineteen observations Johan made that day, and he said he want right to it when he spotted it. It was the first observation of this species in that restricted area in five years!

“Today I'm using iNaturalist for reference to any living organism in our area, as well as South Africa,” says Johan (above). “I consider myself as conservationist and a protector of the Natural world. If i could do more to preserve, protect and look after our planet, I MOST DEFINITELY WILL do so!!”


- Johan leads some of the tours listed here.

- The species Cyphia bulbosa is commonly known as bulb baroe, but unfortunately I can’t find too much information about the species or genus online. If anyone has cool facts about this plant, please share in the comments!

Posted on October 27, 2020 18:53 by tiwane tiwane | 7 comments | Leave a comment

October 22, 2020

In Colombia, Former Guerillas Use iNaturalist to Record Biodiversity

For over five decades, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—Ejército del Pueblo (FARC) guerilla group waged a civil war in Colombia. After FARC signed a ceasefire in 2016, there was an opportunity to explore and survey the biodiverse regions the group had occupied, and the need to incorporate thousands of guerrillas into Colombian society. 

The initiative GROW Colombia, supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF-UK),  is working to sustainably develop “Colombia’s agri-industry and bio-economy for the benefit of the Colombian people,” and they are collaborating with Jaime Gonogora (@jaimegongora), an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney and native Colombian. Professor Góngora has been working with the former guerrillas to conduct biodiversity surveys of the areas they occupied, and is using iNaturalist as one of the tools in their work.

I recently spoke with Professor Góngora (above) via Zoom about his work with the former guerrillas and how they are using iNaturalist. 

Jaime Góngora grew up in the mountains of Colombia and, after moving to Bogotá, had to work to pay for his university education, becoming the first in his family to graduate from college. “I wasn’t the most talented student at all,” he says, “[but] I knew that I loved biology. I wanted to become an academic, a scientist, [and] conserve nature.” He credits meeting Chris Moran and Frank Nicholas of the University of Sydney, who were doing genetics work, and

They said to me “We don’t think you’re ready yet, but what if we offer you a multi-year plan and you can come and work with us.” I didn’t believe them but I didn’t see a lot of possibilities in Colombia, I knocked doors everywhere. I stuck to [their] plan, and I was able to apply for a scholarship in 1999.

Jaime has since settled in Sydney, where he now has a family and is advising students of his own. One of them was working in the United Kingdom and connected him with the GROW Colombia initiative, which is directed by Professor Federica Di Palma. He started working with them on programs for academics, but tells me “I realized that something was missing there.

I said OK, I have these ideas. I already had some experiences in Colombia working with communities, I knew a little bit about the history, about the situation, and I said we can do this with these combatants. What’s simple but powerful is we can empower these combatants to know and understand nature, so they can contribute to science in doing inventories of biodiversity but actually using that for ecotourism...they are undertaking in remote areas of Colombia as part of the reincorporation into society. 

The program, called Peace with Nature*, came together over the period of about eighteen months. Much of this preparation involved building a network of Colombian scientists and researchers who could help, as Jaime wanted the former combatants to build relationships not only with him but with a community of scientists in the country. As they started to design workshops and trainings, they made sure to not only teach standard methods of taking inventories (including using binoculars for wildlife, “which they had [previously] only used to look at enemies [with]”) but to combine that with the former combatants’ deep traditional knowledge of the environment they’d lived in for decades. For example, some former guerrillas have pointed out the differences between two plants that a scientist thought were the same species. 

Training also included how-tos for iNaturalist, and iNat’s partner in Colombia, Instituto Humboldt, has been supporting Peace with Nature. Each survey team included a group who were taking photos for iNaturalist, and when they returned to the villages, they uploaded their finds to iNat. Jaime tells me they plan to curate the observations, and that at least one former guerrilla, @ricardosemillas, has really taken to iNat. 

These are only the first steps of course, and the group envisions engaging future ecotourists with iNat as well. “[The former guerrillas will] go and...show them the attractions..and the tourists can take pictures so we will be encouraging tourists to increase the participatory inventories through iNaturalist. In that way, tourists become citizen scientists and increase the inventories [in the area],” says Jaime. 

While the entire endeavor is clearly close to his heart, Jaime is especially proud of the progress he’s observed when it comes to former enemies bonding over nature. Due to security issues, Colombian military and police - who not too long ago were fighting the guerrillas - accompanied the group and Jaime recalls 

I saw an opportunity in particular with the police being close to us, and I said “Hey, come here, you can be involved,” and I have pictures of the guerillas teaching children from schools and the police how to use iNaturalist...In the last workshop we have the first member of the military officially being part of the inventories.

People think sometimes to see the negative aspects of people. My tendency is to see the positive aspects of people. What is positive there that we can use to connect people to a change in behavior that could be transformational for the purpose of your project, in this case conserving nature and reincorporating people into society...iNaturalist is contributing to empower people to do transformational and positive change and to global peace.


- There are a few other articles about this program, check them out here, here, and here.

- And a nice video about the program here. It’s in Spanish and English. As an English speaker, I’ve found that if I turn on captions then, in the gear icon, choose Auto Translate and English, it’s actually pretty understandable. I imagine it works well for other languages too.


* Jaime wants to note that Peace with Nature has been a collaborative project in which he has engaged more than 10 academic, research and government institutions including the Amazonian Scientific Research Institute SINCHI, ECOMUN, ARN, UniAmazonia, and the UN Verification Mission.

Photos courtesy of Jaime Góngora.

Posted on October 22, 2020 21:28 by tiwane tiwane | 18 comments | Leave a comment