How to use Location Search on the Explore Page

Modified on Tue, 06 Feb 2024 at 03:33 PM


Location vs. Place

iNaturalist has "Places", which are saved geographic boundaries in the iNaturalist database. Places are either "Standard" (countries, states, and counties, added and managed by iNaturalist staff), or "Community Curated," meaning that members of the iNaturalist community made them. These can be anything from cities, to park boundaries, to backyards and other areas of interest. 

Because most Places on iNaturalist are added by its community, and are not added in an organized, comprehensive fashion, they don't cover much of the Earth, and their boundaries are not standardized. 

Therefore the "Location" search field on the Explore page leverages Google Maps as a way to help you at least find the general area you're interested in, as it's unlikely an iNaturalist place will match your search. 

When you type a term into the "Location" search field, iNaturalist returns results from Google Maps. When you click on one of those results, iNaturalist first tries to match it with any existing iNaturalist Place. If it can't do that, then it will draw a rectangle around the location that Google sends us for that place, to at least get you to the correct area, which you can then refine further. Here's how it works.

Using the Location Search field when there's no matching iNaturalist place

Let's say you want to search the area around Yucca Valley, California.

1. Click in the Location search and field type in yucca valley, which gives you these results from Google:

2. Choose the result you want - in this case, "Yucca Valley CA, USA".

3. iNaturalist did not find any matches for an iNaturalist Place called "Yucca Valley" in its database, so it then draws a rectangle around the location it gets from Google and displays the observations found in that rectangle. You'll see "Custom Boundary" displayed on the left-hand side, showing you that it's not an iNat place but a boundary that has been drawn just for this search.

4. Let's say this has gotten you to the right area but you want to refine or change the search boundary now that you're here. You can use the tools seen in the red circle to do that:

Using the Places of Interest tool

Clicking on the Places of Interest tool will show you a list of iNaturalist places that are in the map area you see, regardless of any boundary being used. Mousing over any of these places will make its boundary appear on the map, to give you an idea of what it contains. For example, if you mouseover "Wilderness near Joshua Tree National Park," you see part of its boundary appear in on the lower right-hand side of the map.

If you click on "Wilderness near Joshua Tree National Park," the Explore page will use that boundary as its new search area:

Using the Circle and Rectangle Drawing Tools

To the right of Places of Interest are the shape drawing tools:

These are pretty simple: click on the rectangle to draw a rectangle, click the circle to draw a circle. Once the shape is made, Explore will show you the observations within the shape. You can move or resize the shape after you draw it.

Using Redo search in map

Finally, there's the Redo search in map button. What this does is simply draw a boundary using the currently shown map area in your browser. So if you click on it while on the page above, the boundary will be drawn and the map will zoom out a bit so you can see exactly where the boundary is:

You can also directly search iNaturalist Places if you like, by clicking on Filters -> More Filters and using Places:

Searching there will only return iNaturalist Places as options.

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