Member profile - Bob Jacobs

Looking back at most of my communications with other participants in the project, I note the most common topic of conversation regards fish identification. Without a doubt, one of the most significant characteristics of the project is the accuracy of the identification of fish images and it has helped to make Australasian Fishes a highly trusted and valuable resource for scientific research. There is a high level of integrity in correct identification of the 3404 species our project has recorded in our waters so far, and we owe a great debt to those 3,594 people who have aided with fish identification to date.
Some of the discussions of fish identification may sound a bit over the top, especially if you follow some of the rare “disagreements” regarding the identification of challenging taxa. This is how science works however, and fish identification is an imperfect science. The iNaturalist Computer Vision (see the journal post) helps a great deal, but new details of fish morphology are constantly added to the global knowledge base and keeping up to date is difficult as well as rewarding.
That said, many participants tell me that fish identification is one of the most rewarding aspects of this citizen science project. I too find it a pleasure when a species I post, with some uncertainty. is later correctly identified by someone. I greatly admire their skill but recognise that it comes from long periods of study and experience. It is a type of virtuosity I will never possess, but for which I am frequently grateful.
It is even more delightfully surprising when I discover that experts making the identifications for fish from my backyard are doing so from far away. I have written about other project participants who are not based in Australia or New Zealand, but I was quite surprised to recently learn that the project’s current 10th ranked participant in fish identification, @uconnbirdfish, lives the northeastern United States. His name is Bob Jacobs. Bob is a retired Fisheries Biologist having worked 39 years for the State of Connecticut, where he was Supervisor of Connecticut's Inland Fisheries Warmwater Management Program.
I asked him some questions.
Tell us a little about the origins of your interest in nature and fish.
When I was 11 years old, we moved from an urban/suburban area (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) to a suburban/rural one (North Branford, Connecticut). My brothers and I were suddenly transported into a natural playground, which we explored with gusto. For the first time we had woods, fields, and swamps to explore. We lived in a neighborhood that was part of a lake association that gave us access to a 22-acre pond with swimming beach. We became adept at swimming and later scuba diving, but the pond was the catalyst for my biggest love – fishing. I got a B.S. in Biology at UConn. My advisors always said I should have a general background to keep my job prospects wide. After graduating I looked for a job related to my field and concluded that being a generalist sort of translates to “good at nothing”. So, I hunkered down and went for a Masters in Fishery Biology (again at UConn) even though I was aware that job prospects were much more limited than in many other fields.
You seem interested in many different aspects of nature; now that you are retired, how do you divide your time amongst so many interests?
You’re right that I am interested in all of nature. I was always interested in animals. In recent years my wife Peggy has gotten me more interested in plants (but I still have to ask her what most of them are). After retirement, I vowed to simply have fun and enjoy nature wherever and whenever I can. However, my favorite pastime has lately become lifelist fishing (Author Note: catching of as many fish species as possible). I have always kept records of the different fish species I’ve caught but am now much less interested in catching big fish, rather I want to “collect” new fish species.
We are grateful for your species identification. How often do you examine iNat fish images?
I go onto iNat most days for at least a half hour. On my job I became pretty expert at identifying fishes from northeast U.S., but now that I’m retired, I have no reason to limit my scope. One of the challenges of lifelist fishing is the probability of observing animals you’ve never seen before. Taking a photo and trying to figure out what it is after the fact often results in ID uncertainty. So, getting as broad as possible a knowledge of taxonomy reduces this uncertainty. Lifelist fishing is probably my biggest impetus in trying to actively increase my identification expertise.
I visited the Sydney area once a few years back and was thrilled at the uniqueness of the biota of Australia, but I guess I would say I’m trying to broaden my skills over all areas of the world in both fresh and saltwater. That said, Australia has some pretty cool fish. One thing I noticed was that fish common names elsewhere tend to be more descriptive, but those in Australia are often more playful and irreverent. Example, one of my favorites is the Old Wife which is indeed a bizarre looking animal!
What advice would you offer to people new to the software and the iNat system?
My advice to people getting started in iNat is, “Just do it!” iNat has broadened my taxonomy skills immensely. Simply start with species you are pretty familiar with and practice identifying them. Don’t be afraid to post a wrong answer because the other people will set you straight. That’s where the greatest learning occurs – study what others say about why you were wrong. Then browse the plethora of photos of that species and try to tune into the trait that you overlooked so you won’t make the mistake again.
I know from my previous field work that getting really good at taxonomy comes from looking at hundreds, sometimes thousands, of specimens to get a feel for the range of characteristics each species has. Looking at many photographs on iNat accomplishes this almost as well as seeing the animals in person.
I would be interested to know more about your wife’s photography.
Peggy is the photographer. I took most of the fish photos for my field guide, “Pictorial Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Connecticut”. These took very limited skill because the conditions for each photo were standardized. Camping is one of our favorite means of exploring new areas. Peggy is constantly toting a heavy camera with telephoto lens and snapping pictures of birds, plants, whatever gets in the way of her aim! A lot of the closeup shots are done with her cell phone (some phones take pretty good photos now). When we return home, we post the best of her photos on iNat or we post bad ones in hopes someone will be able to ID the subject.
As a retired scientist, what advice would you give to our more novice Australasian Fishes naturalists?
One of my pet peeves on the site is when people argue that an ID must be correct because some professional said so. Well, I’ve met plenty of biologists who had pretty limited taxonomy skills. This doesn’t mean that they weren’t good at their jobs – it just isn’t necessary for a biologist to know lots of fish species unless they are doing some kind of general survey work. On the other hand, I have observed that there are many anglers and divers on iNat whose careers are not fish related, but they know their fish really well likely because that’s their passion.
I have reminded more than a few on iNat that it’s not a person’s title that makes them expert, but their skill - besides trying to win an argument by stating ‘a professional said so’ is one of the classic fallacies of logic.
I find people like Bob and Peggy very inspirational, and intrigued about the idea of lifefishing, and the recording in iNaturalist of the species they catch. It reminds me of a Birding friend I recently talked to about the data they’ve accumulated. Taking this lifetime of experience and putting it in a database which allows others around the world to access and will be properly maintained for many years to come is a valuable, personal contribution to science and is the hallmark of both a professional and citizen scientist.
Bob has made 247,319 identifications for iNaturalist to date, 11,874 for Australasian Fishes alone. We are grateful to Bob and Peggy for supporting an initiative, on the other side of the planet from their home.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Publicado el agosto 14, 2023 02:22 MAÑANA por markmcg markmcg


Nice work Bob and Peggy. It would be interesting to see a map of project member locations actually!

Publicado por lachlan_fetterplace hace 11 meses

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