Journal archives for May 2022

May 04, 2022

Australian moths and the influence of Victor Fazio III

On iNaturalist, moths are a big deal in Australia. Indeed, at the end of last month, we surpassed 400,000 Australian moth observations on iNaturalist, so there's no better time to take a dive into this amazing group of insects.

As of early in the morning on 4 May 2022, 426,206 observations of moths in Australia have been uploaded to iNaturalist. These observations cover 5,479 species; although there are of course many undescribed (and undiscovered) species, the Australian Faunal Directory currently lists 10,432 Australian moth species, meaning we've already managed to document 52.5% of all described Australian moths. This number continues to grow at an impressive pace; in November 2020 it was 42.9%, and in December 2021 it was 49%, with almost 400 new species documented in the 5 months since. Moths make up almost 40% of all Australian insect observations on iNaturalist, and indeed constitute over 12% of all Australian observations across all taxa!

Although these statistics are certainly the result of an amazing group effort, with moth observations contributed by 10,807 users and identified by 2,767, one user stands head and shoulders above the rest, a titan of Australian moths on iNaturalist: @vicfazio3.

Without Vic, the Australian iNaturalist moth community would never have reached its current lofty heights; noone has done more for Australian moths on the platform. While his 137,261 identifications of Australian moths is incredible in its own right, this statistic becomes more amazing when you realise the second most prolific identifier has made 25,142 identifications, more than 100,000 below Vic. These identifications have been made for almost 5,000 users, representing a tremendous teaching effort and transfer of knowledge. Whether it's micromoths just a few millimetres in length, majestic emperor moths, or the thousands of obscure brown ones in between, Vic's knowledge is unparalleled. Indeed, the nature of moths truly highlights the breadth and depth of Vic's expertise. In taxa such as birds or butterflies, it is typically easier to gain the knowledge to identify many species. In a hugely diverse group like moths, where thousands of species are fairly uncharismatic and look quite similar to each other, it's much tougher to build the expertise to be able to confidently identify taxa from more than a handful of families or tribes, but Vic has managed to do exactly that.

But Vic is not just the go-to identifier for Australian moths; he's also a tremendously prolific observer. He currently sits second on the all-time iNaturalist observers list of Australian moths, with 26,384 observations across 1,290 species. For any regular iNaturalist users, Vic's observations are instantly recognisable: high quality photographs showing his trademark large mesh moth netting, most of them from around his home in the Manning Valley. Many of the moths photographed and uploaded by Vic represent the only photographs of those species on iNaturalist.

Vic has also written 27 journal posts on iNaturalist covering a broad range of invaluable topics, including taxonomic disputes and discrepancies, ecology, misidentifications, and BOLD. All of them are well worth reading.

Some of Vic's most valuable contributions are less tangible with respect to his personal stats. One of these is his tremendous generosity with his time and his endless patience. I have lost track of the number of times that I have tagged Vic to look at my moth observations, so I can only imagine the number of times he gets tagged by every other user as well. And for each and every tag, Vic always responds, either with an identification or a thoughtful comment pointing me in the right direction. The second is the great number of taxonomic discrepancies and pervasive misidentifications that he's resolved. On countless occasions, Vic has uncovered a species which has been misidentified en masse across iNaturalist, determined the correct identification, and then passed on this knowledge to other users. These corrections are crucial for improving the quality of data on iNaturalist (and by extension, the ALA and GBIF, into which these data flow). The third is the huge impact Vic's identifications (and observations) have had on iNaturalist's Computer Vision. A few years ago, uploading an Australian moth and trying to use the CV to suggest a species was a dead end unless you had observed something very common (think Scopula rubraria) or highly distinct (think Cosmodes elegans). Now, there are ~700 Australian moth species that can be offered as suggestions by the CV!

Across all taxa, Vic sits 2nd on the list of all time identifiers for Australia, 6th for all time observers in Australia, and indeed has the 56th most identifications out of any iNaturalist user anywhere in the world (out of almost 250,000), having made an incredible 203,098 identifications. Vic is one of the most important, prolific and recognisable contributors to iNaturalist, having been part of the platform for more than eight years. Here's to Vic.

Posted on May 04, 2022 08:37 AM by thebeachcomber thebeachcomber | 5 comments | Leave a comment