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iSpot Forum

What groups of organisms are people interested in?

Looking at the profiles of people joining ispot there is often a wide range of interest e.g. fungi, lichens, bryophytes and all manner of types of wildlife where there are rather few observations or experts. So why don’t people post observations of these groups of organisms or give identifications?

Is it because they are tricky to identify or photograph?

Actually compared to those small buzzy insects they are often easier to photograph and there are some good ID guides, the one for UK bryophytes being pretty comprehensive ‘Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland A Field Guide’.

I think you’re right about the degree of difficulty in identifying most of these from photos. In the case of fungi, lack of detail (often just a “cap shot”) must make it difficult for the knowledgeable. But we do have some good mycologically-focussed contributors (though Fenwickfield is sadly missed).
The user-unfriendly interface may not help, though: nor the fact that (as I have found), if you pose a question in a comment (“what sort of habitat?”), the person posting often doesn’t reply. Maybe (s)he has lost interest, or is too shy to admit not noting enough at the time.
I enjoy seeing posts of organisms outside my ken: marine posts, f’rinstance (having been landlocked most of my life): DJM and others produce fascinating photos. And I find that some more recherche posts lead to to spend even more time I than I can really spare following links from them.
But it’s not just the rarer types where we could do with more input. Hymenoptera are one case in point: a couple of good people here, but lots of species to know about.
People can, of course, also post on the specialist web sites - although a hymenoptera-based Fastbuck page I tried made it clear that they weren’t an identification service, more one for observations of behaviour etc. But the Hoverflies group there, DIptera info, and some others are much more helpful. The point is, we want those critters posted HERE!

This might sound counter-intuitive but personally, as far as iSpot goes, I’m more interested in groups that are on the edge of my experience and offer an opportunity to expand my knowledge and understanding. I don’t usually bother with birds or butterflies that I’m familiar with, for example, I’m more interested in observations from taxa that I know only partially or not at all. iSpot is, or can be, highly educational. Over the last four or five months I have been studying caddisflies and more recently, stoneflies, and have used the posted observations on iSpot to develop identification skills. I’ve found this very rewarding; I couldn’t have done it without iSpot (or a similar resource). And it suits me as a mostly armchair naturalist - with a day job and various other commitments, I don’t get much opportunity to go out and practise.
I find it a little disappointing that there are not more active bee, wasp and ichneumon experts on iSpot. It’s an area I’m conscious of wanting to improve. And if you post observations and get no or limited response, it’s a little disheartening. No one identified my bees - I appreciate they’re not necessarily straightforward, and perhaps my amateur photos didn’t capture the necessary diagnostic features, but no one agreed or disagreed. Obviously, I appreciate that one cannot summon experts.
I am not sure I have answered the question asked…

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There have been bee and wasp experts at times on ispot and I do ask them whenever I see them at conferences etc. However anyone else can also ask any experts to join in and have a look at a bunch of observations or indeed send me their names via the ispot inbox and I will ask them.
Experts tend to be very busy especially now that there are so many systems all demanding their attention so often only spend a limited time on any one system.
ispot was initially set up to start off a new generation of naturalists and with the idea of starting a few people on the path to becoming experts. It has achieved this to some extent but we have also seen some people with considerable knowledge have died or become seriously ill so it is always important that there are new people joining and learning so they can teach others.

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My opinion is that the site will only retain new users if the interface is user-friendly and they are engaged by a community of welcoming, encouraging and helpful people.
I think most new arrivals’ expectations would be that this is a wisdom-of-crowds kind of place, where they will post an observation of something that has sparked their interest and curiosity, and will be engaged, enlightened and appreciated by others. I imagine it must be disheartening and discouraging to come here, take the time and trouble to post your obscure ichneumon or unidentifiable tunicates or Ivy Bee, and get no response whatsoever. Why would you return?
There are experts here, of course, but they are as busy as the rest of us (no more so) and, with some notable exceptions such as lavateraguy and markwilson, can be rather aloof and curt, even dismissive. If something matters to you, you make the time; if it doesn’t, you don’t. Some experts will be interested in helping others, and others won’t care at all.
What I’ve enjoyed on iSpot, besides the access to records to assist my study of Trichoptera and Plecoptera, is being engaged by some of the super-users, such as dejayM and HB, who have coaxed and mentored me, helped me to make identifications more meaningful to others, rather than just saying it’s species X. As corny as it may sound, I do feel part of a community.

This is a very encouraging post by Bluebird, as I think we do have a community of people who are willing to put in the time to help others.

For me it’s not just post and go, it’s an opportunity to offer support in the areas I know something about and learn bit about organisms in other fields. For example, I’ve just learned there are 2500 UK species of Ichneumonidae; and I thought red seaweeds were challenging…
But we’re all volunteers and we do what we can with the time that we have.

I do think some recruitment of experts is becoming necessary. I don’t know how iSpot might go about that, but presumably it/OU has some contacts with if not within the Natural History Museum, Oxbridge and so on which it could exercise in the hope of getting some subject experts dropping by from time to time.
Until that happens, posting observations of some orders and families is almost pointless, except in the sense that they might be stored up for when an expert might visit - but by then they’ll have a list of unidentified observations that would daunt even the indefatigable dejayM.
I’m thinking for instance of Hymenoptera and especially the Ichneumonidae. They are highly visual and striking insects and likely to attract the interest of general naturalists and casual users alike, Plus, they apparently make up about 10% of our insect fauna, so there are a lot about to get reported on iSpot, and there are no readily accessible field guides or keys to the Ichneumonidae. The NHM produced a lovely PDF download - a “beginner’s guide” - - but it covers a tiny % of the species.
There must be many other orders of which this is true. As mentioned in a previous comment, I’m surprised there are no bee people regularly on iSpot - and, I think, no grasshopper experts either. You’re much more likely to get a positive ID if you post a photo of a beautiful bijou globular Collembola going about its business, or a plant gall, or a rust or smut or slime mould, than if you upload a photo of a bush-cricket or a solitary bee. There are exceptions but, as matters stand, I would hesitate before posting on iSpot an observation of a bee because I wouldn’t have any expectation of it being identified. This strikes me as a serious deficiency for the community.
This has consequences for new users, of course, and why they are being lost (if they are, as previous forum threads suggest). You lose them if you don’t engage them and if you cannot provide identification, which is what many are coming here for.

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“I do think some recruitment of experts is becoming necessary.” This has been attempted constantly throughout the history of ispot, you can see via help that there are over 200 organisations badged on the site and at every conference etc that we attend we always ask for experts to join and prod the existing experts to take more interest. However experts are very busy and there are many other organisations also wanting their input.
If you come across any experts in the areas of interest then you can alway send me their details and I will ask them to get involved or more involved (we do have experts from NHM and Oxford museum of natural history and I do prod them at every opportunity).

I know, and I don’t mean to sound as if I’m grumbling. Although I see I didn’t mention it, I was thinking of another thread I had been reading in which it was suggested that iSpot was leaching users and, more specifically, losing them to social media websites where experts were more readily available to identify that troublesome fly etc. If iSpot is to halt and reverse that fall in users (assuming that there is indeed one), then it’s not just the website functionality and performance issues that will need to be addressed, but also the resident population of experts - at least, that’s my view.
I’ve been on iSpot for about five months and, in that sense, although I am not one of the long-established super-users, I am invested in it, derive value and pleasure from it, and want it to succeed.