Recap from a big biodiversity event: Top 5 Most-Wanted Features

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Christian Schwarz

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Dec 17, 2018, 1:26:56 PM12/17/18
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Howdy fellow iNaturalists

Having just run the Santa Cruz Mycoflora Foray this past weekend, I was able to introduce a lot of folks to iNaturalist and really push them to use it.
There seemed to be a really good rate of participation, with lots of attendees using the app in the field. We also did pretty well with getting folks to link their collections to the physical specimens that we then sampled tissue from for sequencing and inclusion in the North American Mycoflora Project.

However, seeing the app through the lens of a bunch of newbies really drove home some overdue feature needs/gaps:

1. Ability to quickly grab the Observation number in-app.
The additional steps required (open observation in browser window, scroll to end of tiny URL bar to copy the obs #) really frustrated a lot of people.
This seems like it would be an easy fix?

2. Ability to search directly for Observation number
This seems like an absolute no-brainer. It seems so clunky to have to open an observation, delete the trailing digits, then replace them.
Just add an Obs # search field to the Filters or better yet, to a permanently-displayed top bar.

3. Ability to easily search Fields, at least via website.
Tags are so much easier to search than fields, I have started telling folks to use them instead. But the huge, big, major advantage of Fields is that I can add them to other people's observations. This allows bioblitz coordinators or tissue-samplers/specimen curators to add metadata to observations made by participants while in the field.

4. Ability to type in a location name when creating an observation in-app.
Self-explanatory. This would really help the curators who get labeled specimens back that they'd like to voucher, but which didn't come with an in-situ field observation. 
In other words, if a specimen comes in with a tag that says it was collected at the Arc de Triomphe, the curator photographing the specimens would just be able to type in that location rather than having to fiddle around with the map.

5. Shared observations 
This will clearly take some doing to implement, but so many people would love to share observations with each other.
It would also make our hikes a lot less chaotic – we could have a few dedicated documentarians, who share the resulting observations with the participants.
More detailed breakdown of what this would look like can be seen here:
A Plea for Shared Observation Functionality

Charlie Hohn

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Dec 17, 2018, 4:25:46 PM12/17/18
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I signed onto your shared observations document. Hope that's ok.

A word of caution for using location names: a lot of them are wrong or have an inappropriate accuracy circle that doesn't enclose the whole place. And they come from Google not iNat so there's no easy way to fix this.

Observation fields definitely need more queries.  For instance, i can use my natural community field to get a list of species that occur in a 'seep' natural community, in order of abundance.  But i would like to do the reverse as well, get a list of all natural communities Impatiens capensis occurs in, in order of abundance, and thus far you can't.

I've never used the observation number for anything at all, why did you need that in-field?  Not questioning the value, just trying to understand what you are doing.

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Charlie Hohn
Montpelier, Vermont

Mark Tutty

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Dec 17, 2018, 5:19:04 PM12/17/18
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I totally get the obs number thing... I pin butterflies/moths, and I will write down the obs number on a little slip to “follow” the moth around until it is finally labelled up completely. Also, soft-bodied specimens in vials get the obs number written on them until the label for inside the vial is printed. The labels are small, and include the obs number too, so iNat can be consulted for much more detail about the specimen than is represented in the label. iNat is effectively my fieldbook now... In chrome, I can double click on the obs number part of the url, and it just selects the number, then ctrl-c to copy and ctrl-v to paste, so it is not too difficult. I imagine in the app it would be very different!

 

Also, when we tie observations into a set, we use a field called “Similar observation set” and often just make it the obs number of the first observation in the set. This is terrific for lifecycle following (raising on) as well as for repeat visits to the same tree for seasonal variations etc... and I think this would help with the connecting of obs in mycological studies:

 

https://inaturalist.nz/observation_fields/9207

 

and a great example of it in action (I have clicked the field and selected “view observations with this field and value”)

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&subview=table&field:Similar%20observation%20set=18373451

and one of my examples (note: I had to tweak the filters to get all three to show, as some are marked “captive”):

https://inaturalist.nz/observations?place_id=6803&subview=grid&verifiable=any&field:Similar%20observation%20set=16545226

 

This “Similar observation set” is not just restricted to using obs numbers, although you are guaranteed a unique key if you do use it! You can use more descriptive ties, such as “Undescribed salticid from Southland” to tie up observations of a similar looking undescribed species that keeps popping up... then if it ever gets described, we have an easy way to go back and review them all!

 

I like the shared observation idea... I think it needs careful consideration, as it could introduce problems that are unexpected. What happens if the observation owner deletes the observation? As far as skewed distributions etc... that already happens just by virtue of unusual things get observed, everyday mundane do not... but yes... we have certain birds nesting in high traffic areas that get photographed dozens of times a day, especially when there is a school trip that visits that location.

 

Another possibility, and it would take coordination and deliberate action... is for the first observer to make theirs the main observation, and the others to add a field “Count=0” so that it can be factored into distributions (I do this when I notice I am doubling up on someone elses observation). Each get’s the taxa counted towards lifelists etc, without skewing data. They could even include the field “Similar observation set” with the first obs number as the link. It is unlikely that this would catch on and become a standard practise though...

 

cheers
Mark Tutty
kiwif...@gmail.com

tony rebelo

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Dec 20, 2018, 5:52:27 AM12/20/18
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Why, rather than putting the iNat url number onto your specimen, dont you enter your specimen accession number into an observation field on iNat.   Then you can easily access it - for example, or CREW Project uses: https://www.inaturalist.org/observation_fields/7437

Christian Schwarz

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Dec 20, 2018, 12:18:06 PM12/20/18
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Tony,

We do that. But that doesn't solve the problem I'm talking about. 
Putting your specimen number into an iNat Field (which still need to be more easily searchable), allows you to go find the specimen if you are looking at the observation.

What I want is to go find the observation if you are looking at the specimen. Opposite direction. Same general solution, different number needed.

C

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Christian Schwarz

bouteloua

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Dec 20, 2018, 12:41:23 PM12/20/18
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Looking at the Android app: might want to add that "Copyright info and more" box to the bottom of the "information" tab. Example attached.

cassi

android-moreinfo.png

tony rebelo

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Dec 21, 2018, 2:53:04 AM12/21/18
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"What I want is to go find the observation if you are looking at the specimen. Opposite direction. Same general solution, different number needed."

No: different way but same solution!

So you have the specimen with a collection number and you need to find it on iNaturalist.
So my specimen number is GIGI061.  I have stored it in the field "Specimen Herbarium Voucher Number: (CREW)"

try it: 

There is no need to put a special tag on your specimen: just use an existing one!

Christian Schwarz

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Dec 21, 2018, 11:39:52 AM12/21/18
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Tony,

I see what you’re saying now. Yes, that works, and it would be fine, except for two things:

1. That URL is clunky and people don’t generally have an easy time figuring out how to search fields on iNat. Which really seems bizarre.

2. Sometimes we want to link a sequence to an observation, but there is no specimen attached to it. It’s not terribly common yet (but I suspect it will become more common) that we generate sequence data without vouchering a specimen.
I such cases there is no specimen number to work from, and the iNat number is the most logical one to go with.

C
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tony rebelo

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Dec 22, 2018, 4:02:04 PM12/22/18
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1. iNat observation field search URLs:  Yes it is clunky, but trivial to learn.
 (a workaround is to find any observation with such a field, and click on the observation field heading, select "with the field and the field value", and then substitute a new field value)
If you are having trouble with it, then manage it with a conventional project with this field linked to the project (it does not have to be compulsory - for instance, you may choose between an specimen-voucher or an IBOL-accession-number - or both!)

2. If you have a sequence, then you will have an iBOL or other DNA accession number.  Use that field instead. 

Mark Tutty

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Dec 22, 2018, 4:20:11 PM12/22/18
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I’m with Christian, Tony... there are times when having the obs# is very handy, and accession numbers or whatever are either not available, or problematic. I see accession numbers as being a great way to tie multiple observations into describing the same organism (ie to make it explicit that they do so), but there are times when you want to link the other way, ie at the organism itself, to tie back to a specific observation. Obs# is then the best way to do so, as it is unique to the observation.

 

As an example, I raise on moth larvae, and the collecting event is described in an observation, let’s say obs#1001. I might make several observations subsequent, showing different instars and the dates those occurred, as well as date of pupation and eventual emergence. In fact, the original collecting event may  even be of an egg that I witnessed being laid... so the “sequence” might encompass all life stages. When it comes time to pin the adult out into the reference collection, it might receive an accession number (not in my case though), but invariably the most useful reference I can make is back to the collecting event, so I use the obs# of the collecting event AS MY ACCESSION NUMBER!

 

Accession numbers are just a way to tie back to journal and record entries to find out about an item in the collection. If we use iNaturalist as our collecting field book, and record all notes in the observations that we make, then it makes sense to tie back to those entries. Why create an additional UNIQUE KEY, when obs# already gives us that. I’ll admit, that losing such things as year components to numbering systems does lose a little of the “immediate info” obtainable from such numbers, but if you don’t need that, then it’s not a big deal.

 

cheers
Mark Tutty
kiwif...@gmail.com

 

From: tony rebelo
Sent: Sunday, 23 December 2018 10:02 AM
To: iNaturalist
Subject: Re: [inaturalist] Recap from a big biodiversity event: Top5Most-Wanted Features

 

1. iNat observation field search URLs:  Yes it is clunky, but trivial to learn.

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tony rebelo

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Dec 23, 2018, 6:50:47 AM12/23/18
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If you want to use the iNat number as your accession number, then cool. Then you dont need any other numbers!

But if you do have another accession number, then add it to your observation(s) using an appropriate observation field, and you have an immediate link from the specimen to iNaturalist without the need to consult extra labels, notebooks or databases!
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