To a new year of possibilities

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Dec 30, 2018, 8:14:30 PM12/30/18
to iNaturalist
First of all, thanks to the iNat dev community for all their wonderful work on the platform. It has been amazing to watch this project evolve over the years!

Recently I have formed a partnership with a developer community who have taken keen interest in helping me with the biodiversity project I curate on Galiano Island. I have a few inquiries regarding some iNat functionality that might potentially benefit from this collaboration.

For the last three years I have curated a project called the Biodiversity Galiano project, which is dedicated to documenting the flora and fauna of Galiano Island, BC. What makes this project unique is that I actively maintain a species list integrating both historical species occurrence data from various sources, such as research databases and private checklists, and contributions made by members of my community using iNaturalist. 

I regularly update my species list using a spreadsheet to keep track of which species have been confirmed through our activities on the island, and which might be considered "new" or previously unreported for the island. These stats help me communicate the rationale of the project in my community, giving credit to community members for their contributions, whether in confirming historical reports or adding new species to the list—and even, on occasion, making contributions to the scientific literature. 

Initially I thought that the 'Places' section of the iNat website could help me curate this "master list", to keep track of all these stats. Indeed, in the past I put a lot of effort into uploading lists of species known to the island to 'Galiano Island' as a place. At first I found it produced satisfying results in the summary statistics, however it proved too difficult to use this tool to organize and manipulate the data for my purposes. (There are probably some errors in those lists that I have no way of accessing or changing, for a start...)

I have since spent countless hours manually curating this species list, which now numbers at about 3,000 taxa, including exhaustive annotations such as authorities and conservation rankings. The developer team that I have engaged with are particularly interested in finding a way of optimizing this practice and extending it in some novel ways. (In the meantime, they very generously coded a data visualization for me, that seems to have evolved in tandem with the radial sunburst visualization iNat shows for Year-End Summary Stats. (You can check it out our beta visualization here: ).

We have a vision of developing tools that provide summary and comparative stats (such as beta diversity stats and species accumulation curves) for localities at different scales throughout British Columbia, and are working in collaboration with regional and provincial land trusts, as well as curators of biodiversity collections, to imagine more accessible, intuitive tools for local communities to manage biodiversity data. Of course, we don't want to go reinventing the wheel; I wonder what potential there is for our initiative to map with iNaturalist?

My sense is that iNaturalist is well engineered and optimized to facilitate the flow of biodiversity information upwards into the cloud (to GBIF, etc.) but that there is a lot of potential to optimize the platform to facilitate the flow of information the other way: to support local conservation groups and citizen scientists in organizing, analyzing and applying these data at the local scale. There is some latent functionality in the 'Places' section of the website, and also some neat comparative stats implemented in the new Projects, that might be developer further to facilitate these goals. I wonder what else might be in store? What is the vision is moving forward? Is the iNat community already working on evolving the functionality of these sections of the website?

I have been collaborating with a number of different institutions and taxonomic experts in the region on this project, including curators at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum and the Royal BC Museum, who have shown a lot of support for this project. We are working toward a data paper to be published in the Biodiversity Data Journal at the end of 2019 and would love to increase capacity for other communities to take on similar initiatives. 

We'd love to open dialogue with the iNat community about potential for our project to contribute to and complement the infrastructure behind iNaturalist.

Charlie Hohn

Dec 30, 2018, 10:46:28 PM12/30/18
instead of place lists, which have their issues, have you considered adding the data or at least one observation per species? Then you could run some of the queries (issues with photoless observations not being supported nonwithstanding) and have a species list more integrated into the iNat database. We did this with an old BioBlitz species list which is part of why I'm interested in those observations... but as long as we can keep iNat supporting them and displaying them... it works really well. There just isn't anything else out there like iNat that works anywhere near as well.

I'm not an iNat dev, of course, but just thought I'd throw that in.

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Charlie Hohn
Montpelier, Vermont

Jan 3, 2019, 7:09:14 PM1/3/19
to iNaturalist
Thanks for the feedback Charlie. The Place list functionality really is the best functionality approaching what it is we are trying to do. Two things: the ability to "check species off" historical lists; and the ability to (potentially) match species up using independent identifiers (the algorithm for creating Place Lists based on comma separated lists of taxa could certainly be usefully harnessed for our purposes). However, the functionality is not accessible enough and doesn't come close to the data management capabilities of a simple spreadsheet.

I realize that our wish list probably goes beyond what iNat has been developed to do, yet still see promise for some of the site features to be adapted to achieve some of the goals we are envisioning.

Hopefully I will be able to broach the conversation with an iNat dev to discuss things further. To the extent that we are poised to invest a lot of time and resources into the project, it would be good if it can map or complement existing iNat functionality in some way—toward the goal of making biodiversity data more accessible and relevant for local biodiversity research, education and conservation.

Charlie Hohn

Jan 3, 2019, 10:29:58 PM1/3/19
if it works, it works! iNat is open source and i know in the past some projects have partnered with them to add new features.
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