Cross-pollinate between iNaturalist and Wikimedia communities

On April 16th Micelio, the Botanical Garden of Meise, the Groene Pioniers Project and Wikimedia Belgium, held a fun event where we explored how the iNaturalist and Wikimedia communities could cross-pollinate.

Apr 25 · 5 min read
Boechout castle in the centre of the Botanical garden of Meise

The relevance of iNaturalist for Wikimedia platform surfaced during a social event in the margin of last years Wikimania in Cape Town (South Africe), where some attendees visited the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. Some of the participants appeared to be active in both the iNaturalist and various Wikimedia communities. Observations, made during the trip to Kirstenbosch botanical garden, featured in Wikipedia or were used as provenance in Wikidata. Although the default license of iNaturalist (i.e. CC-BY-SA-NC) does not allow usage of the observations on any of the Wikimedia platforms, iNaturalist allows changing that license to more Wikimedia friendly licenses (i.e. CC0, CC-BY, and CC-BY-SA).

Table 1. Compatibility of licenses between iNaturalist and Wikimedia platforms. Licenses described on the filter page of iNaturalist. Assuming the latest version (4.0).

The possibility to change licenses allows reuse of iNaturalist content in many other case, such using it as illustrations in Wikimedia Commons or as evidence to substantiate that a species captured in an image indeed depicts what is stated it does. At the time of writing this blog, iNaturalist contained more than 1.3 million images (212.686 CC0 + 743.137 CC-BY + 362.511 CC-BY-SA) that are available under a license that allows reuse on the different Wikimedia platforms.

This and the fact that iNaturalist uses Wikipedia as the source for the different taxon descriptions provides thus a nice example of reuse and was one of the motivations for us to explore how the Wikimedia and iNaturalist communities could build upon each other’s knowledge.

So on April 16th 2019, a small group of volunteers met at the Botanical garden in Meise (Belgium), to observe and explore how to cross-pollinate. The loosely structured program contained activities alternating between Querying Wikidata, wandering and observing through the garden (Figure 1), and processing the observations by editing in iNaturalist, Wikidata, Commons and Wikipedia.

Figure 1. Searching for and observing species in the Botanical garden of Meise


During the event, 86 observations of 57 species were uploaded to iNaturalist. Now (April 22nd), 40 of those observations became research grade observations in iNaturalist. It is this research-grade status that for me triggers the observation to be eligible for inclusion in Commons, and core to why I consider iNaturalist a valuable resource for the Wikimedia community. With many uploads to commons, the assessment of its contents lies fully with the observer, now we can rely on an additional layer of evidence that an image or sound recording indeed depicts what has stated it does. Unfortunately, not many of those research grade observations from this event made it to Commons yet. Other observations did already make it into Commons though.

Selection of observations made. (source and credits on iNaturalist

Invasive species

Although we did not limit ourselves in what to observe, the theme of the event was centred around “Invasive species”. Invasive species are species that were introduced to a region where it has a negative impact.

The European Union currently recognises 23 invasive plants of concern to the European Union (on Wikidata). Having meta-data of these species on Wikidata allows identifying missing Wikipedia articles in English and the three official Belgian languages, Dutch, French, and German. A SPARQL query submitted to Wikidata (Query 1), returned 23 species (Table 2)

SPARQL query to get Wikipedia articles in English and the official Belgian languages (Try me….)
Table 2: Invasive species of EU concern

Species kept

The garden keeps a Living Plants Collection Database (LIVCOL), the meta-data of thousands of species listed can enrich Wikidata allowing to, with a small adaptation of the SPARQL query used to list the Wikipedia articles on invasive species, mentioned above, we can list Wikipedia articles that are written and those that yet need to be written on species kept in the Botanical Garden of Meise.

Query 2: Querying for species kept in the Botanical garden of Meise and whether or not a Wikipedia article on the species exist


After the two actual observations both in the garden and the greenhouses, we concluded by writing Wikipedia articles based on the lists generated by the queries mentioned above. Although the day itself was very enlightening, and there is definitely a taste for more. The real eureka moment came when only seconds after finishing working on a Dutch Wikipedia article that didn’t exist yet, we noticed that article actually featured on the description tab on the listing of the species on iNaturalist demonstrating the full cycle between Wikipedia and iNaturalist. Observations in iNaturalists are used in Wikipedia articles, while iNaturalist use Wikipedia articles as descriptions. Both Wikidata and Commons are core in that supply chain.

Source: Tweet

Future steps

To me, this full cycle - from iNaturalist to Wikimedia to iNaturalist — was a very exciting thing to happen during the visit to Meise. Finally, 2 new Wikipedia articles (Gestekelde duizendknoop and Graptophyllum pictum) were written as a result of this event and many more remain to be written. So I am really looking forward to the similar Wikimedia/iNaturalist events.

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