Identifier Profile: @kai_schablewski

This is the third in what is an ongoing monthly (or almost monthly) series highlighting the amazing identifiers of iNaturalist.

“I love the enormous variety of shapes and the beauty of nature and have been fascinated by it all my life,” Kai-Philipp Schablewski (@kai_schablewski) tells me. Currently living in Marburg, Kai was born in the German city of Siegen and says “In my childhood [See Kai at age 11 below] I spent a lot of time in nature, was allowed to help design my parents' garden and owned several aquariums where I kept and bred plant, shrimp and fish species.” He  has also studied botany and has a real passion for plants.

Biodiversity is the Earth's greatest treasure that reflects the history of life on Earth but also stands for the future of life on Earth. Plants form the basis of most of the Earth's ecosystems.

The greater the diversity of plants, the more other species an ecosystem can usually accommodate.

There are around 320,000 different plant species, unfortunately we often only get to know a tiny fraction of them in the course of our lives.

He also notes, of course, that biodiversity is not evenly distributed. Germany averages, he says, about 500 different species of vascular plants per 10,000 km², while

the greatest number of different plant species and the greatest general diversity can be found in South America. Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela are among the 10 most biodiverse countries in the world, and Bolivia [is almost in the top ten]. Since I also find the landscapes and nature there incredibly beautiful, it is easy to see why I am particularly interested in the flora of this continent.

Unfortunately, I have never been to South America so far, but I love to imagine nature there and how it might be to find these plants there.

For years, then, Kai has been using platforms like Flickr and iNat to virtually explore the flora and fauna of South America and other biodiverse regions, and on iNat he’s made over 120,000 identifications (he’s the top iNat identifier of plants in South America) as well as adding and curating thousands of taxa. 

[When I became a curator in 2018,] the distribution of observations was even more uneven than it is today. Many observations came from the United States, Canada, Mexico, South Africa or New Zealand.

Many other particularly species-rich states, such as the countries of South America or Southeast Asia, had far fewer observations back then than they do today and many species were not even available on iNaturalist.

In order for iNaturalist to gain popularity in these countries as well, I found it very important to enter as many different species as possible into the system and also to update and correct the taxonomy. I think the situation has gotten a lot better now and iNaturalist is becoming more and more important in these countries too.

When identifying plants on iNaturalist, Kai says he usually tries to get an initial family ID general characteristics. “Then I try to determine the respective genus or species using identification keys. Often, with the help of species knowledge or the numerous image databases, it is possible to bypass many steps of the identification process and thus achieve a result more quickly.” (You can see a list of some of Kai’s resources at the end of this blog post.)

Not speaking Spanish, Portuguese, or Chinese, Kai often relies on machine translation and also notes “I [sometimes] understand the content of Spanish or Portuguese texts, especially technical terms that are often very similar in different languages.”

And what types of plant photos are best for identification? “As many different details of the species as possible should be visible.” 

It is therefore highly recommended to take more than one picture of the species. Close-ups of flowers, leaves, fruits, the stem and other features are very helpful. In addition, it often helps to look at the species from different angles, for example a top view of the flowers and a view from the side. Even a picture from further away is helpful so that it is possible to see the habitat of the species.

While he may spend much of his time identifying observations from around the globe, Kai (below) says that using iNat to make observations has led him to some cool finds in his native Germany, like the first arctic sunburst lichen observations in the country, or this very blue liverwort

After working as a biological technical assistant at several pharmaceutical companies, Kai lost his job about three years ago and has since had difficulty finding full-time work as he suffers from social phobia and depression. “I probably spend far more time with iNaturalist than with any full-time job before,” he says, “but I don’t know how long I will be able to do this because I somehow have to make a living.”

“My previous jobs did not give me the feeling of doing something useful, even though I worked in the pharmaceutical industry,” he explains. “I felt replaceable and interchangeable. Since I've been helping with iNaturalist, I've had the feeling that I can contribute to something bigger and actually influence and improve it to a certain extent...I think it is very important, especially in this age of habitat destruction and species extinctions that we are living in.”

Some of Kai’s favorite taxa are:

He’s also fascinated by mycoheterotrophic and parasitic plants like Tiputinia foetida and Corsia arfakensis.

"Some of my favorite pages that I use for my identifications include for example:

Galería Bioweb Ecuador

Flora Argentina and Flora del Conosur

REFLORA - Flora do Brasil 2020 

Flora of China 

Plant Photo Bank of China 

...and many more.

I usually also check the plant on POWO, the taxonomic backbone for plant species on iNaturalist.

Many papers that have been published at ResearchGate have also helped me very often."

Posted by tiwane tiwane, August 02, 2021 21:58


Nice to get some background information about the people whose names are familiar of course. I always had the feeling that you are an autodidactic naturalist and I have a lot of respect for such people since they can accumulate an immense amount of knowledge. Sometimes even more that professionals since they tend to have a higher intrinsic motivation and interest. Hope you overcome your personal issues and find a meaningful job. All the best to you!

Posted by then 3 months ago (Flag)

Thanks for sharing. Good to know I'm not the only identifier living with anxiety and depression... I hope you do find good ways of working around it, or eliminating the symptoms altogether one day. I learned a lot about the history of iNat, I hadn't realized that SA was in the position many other countries are in today. It gives me hope that even more places will grow more popular here as support increases and interested curators give them a hand.
Also, great tips about photographing plants for ID. When in doubt, always take a few extra photos. Get creative. You never know when an identifier needs to look under the leaves or inside the mouth of that flower. Having the extra information is better in most cases.

Posted by trh_blue 3 months ago (Flag)

Thank you, Kai, for many ids of obscure plants.

Posted by nyoni-pete 3 months ago (Flag)

Great to learn more about Mr. Schablewski, definitively one of the most important contributors of the site. Hopefully you will find a job that suits your needs and passions better than the previous ones.

Best regards!

Posted by rafaelacua 3 months ago (Flag)

I also wanted to thank Kai for his many helpful and supportive contributions to iNat over the years. He takes the time to add helpful and encouraging comments and makes some tough IDs. And as someone who's dealt from anxiety and depression for much of my life, thank you so much for your honestly and openness about it, Kai. It means a lot.

If anyone has suggestions for identifiers to profile, please send me a direct message or email!

Posted by tiwane 3 months ago (Flag)

Kai is amazing, have no enough words to thankful him for all the job he does here.

Posted by diegoalmendras 3 months ago (Flag)

What a great write-up! Wonderful to learn a bit more about you, Kai!
Big time thanks for all of your ID's on many of my observations and so many others.

Posted by sambiology 3 months ago (Flag)

Thank you Kai for your contributions to South America plants, with such diversity it appears that there's always a lot to ID over here.

Posted by roysh 3 months ago (Flag)

Another big thank you to Kai for all the work he has put into ID'ing plants in South America! Any time I start working on IDs for species that stretch into that continent I always run into Kai's knowledgeable contributions.

Posted by rupertclayton 3 months ago (Flag)


Posted by jasonrgrant 3 months ago (Flag)

Gracias Kai!
Thank you!

Posted by aztekium_tutor 3 months ago (Flag)

Kai, its amazing to me that you've never been to South America given the depth of your botany expertise there!

Posted by loarie 3 months ago (Flag)

Thanks Kai !

Posted by vfarjalla 3 months ago (Flag)

Thank you Kai for all of your id's on my observations!!

Posted by bernardo_segura 3 months ago (Flag)

Thank you for sharing, it's great to hear Kai useful background and wish him more success.

Posted by shahrzadasa 3 months ago (Flag)

What more can one say! Many thanks Kai for all your IDs and comments. It's made the results of my trips to South America far more interesting and considerably broadened my knowledge of it's unique flora. Can't wait to get back and make more observations for you :)

Posted by mrtnlowr 3 months ago (Flag)

Thank you very much for all your kind words, I am very happy to be part of this awesome community. I think it's great that, despite so many negative headlines about the state of our planet, there are so many people who love and explore nature. Keep your enthusiasm and your love for nature and pass it on!

For me, iNaturalist also means that you can constantly learn something new. I think it is therefore particularly important that you question every identification, no matter who determined the species.

For example, I make a lot of mistakes, even if I try very hard to correctly identify a species.
Every critical correction not only makes iNaturalist better, it also gives you the opportunity to learn something new about our fantastic nature.

I have another tip, try to take pictures of things that you normally don't pay attention to!

For example, some time ago I started taking pictures of lichens, mosses, phytoparasitic fungi and many other things that I had little idea about.

In the meantime I have grown very fond of all these groups of organisms and I am so happy that I was able to learn so much about them through our great community.

Thank you also very much for your understanding of my depression. Before I had it, I always imagined it to be completely different and it is frightening how much this can determine your life. All drive can be extinguished and you can lose interest in things that usually mean a lot to you.

I had phases where I simply stopped working at iNaturalist. I just didn't let anyone hear from me. Please don't be surprised, it can happen. But that doesn't change the fact that you and the community mean a lot to me and I promise that I will always come back and keep going!

Posted by kai_schablewski 3 months ago (Flag)

Gut, dass es Dich gibt Kai!

Posted by jansson 3 months ago (Flag)

Well done and best wishes to you.

Posted by susanhewitt 3 months ago (Flag)

Thank you @kai_schablewski for sharing a little more about you, I totally agree with you on "try to take pictures of things that you normally don't pay attention to", this really make you discover biodiversity around you!
I hope you can overcome any negative feelings, an remember you have a whole iNat community to rely on.
Best regards amigo!


Posted by aztekium_tutor 3 months ago (Flag)

He helped me to identify one of the rare species, it was the first from this species and genus on INat
Thank you @kai_schablewski . i have more fore you ☺

Posted by salimeh 3 months ago (Flag)

Dear @kai_schablewski

Thank you for being an amazing and patient identifier. Being here, one among many of your fans makes me realize how many people you have affected with you inaturalist work.

Wishes that you find something and someone who appreciate your knowledge and offer you opportunities that suit what you want to do.

warm wishes

Posted by ram_k 3 months ago (Flag)

Kai, I thank you for all your great effort, dedication and motivation in making the identification of the species. Indeed, in Chile, the number of plants registered in Inat has grown considerably compared to previous years, and certainly, this is because people like you make identifications and share your knowledge of plants and this becomes an incentive to register new ones.
Your work is very relevant because knowing and identifying species helps us to protect them, since we do not love what we do not know. This creates an awareness of biodiversity and makes us responsible for its protection and care.
Thank you very much for your work because thanks to it we know our biodiversity better and better.
Best regards!
Orlando Montes

Kai, le agradezco todo su gran esfuerzo, dedicación y motivación en realizar la identificación de las especies. Efectivamente, en Chile, el número de registro de plantas a crecido considerablemente respecto a años anteriores en Inat, y por cierto, esto es producto a que personas como usted realizan identificaciones y comparten su conocimiento de plantas y esto, se transforma en un incentivo para a registrar otras nuevas.
Su labor es muy relevante porque al conocer e identificar las especies, nos ayuda a protegerlas, ya que no se ama lo que no se conoce. Con esto se crea una conciencia con la biodiversidad y nos hace responsable de su protección y cuidado.
Muchas gracias por su labor porque debido a ella cada vez conocemos mejor nuestra biodiversidad.
Orlando Montes

Posted by orlandomontes 3 months ago (Flag)

You make the iNaturalist community stronger, thank you Kai! Whatever balance you end up striking in your life, I really hope you continue to make us some part of it.

I don't think I've seen it mentioned yet, but Kai has also contributed over 1000 IDs of plant species in African countries!

Posted by muir 3 months ago (Flag)

Thanks to Kai many of my partial or incorrect IDs have been improved often to species level. It is always good to have his input to point me at a correct identification. He has been very helpful as I study SA plants and upload photos from my travels.

Posted by doppelganger 3 months ago (Flag)

A model iNaturalist user and curator! Thank you so much for all you do, Kai! Best wishes as you find your next career.

Posted by kitty12 3 months ago (Flag)

Thank you Kai for all the great help you've given me in identifying some African plants and you work with the mycoheterotrophic plants, a new favourite group of mine. Hope to see you on iNat!

Posted by cesarcastillo 3 months ago (Flag)

Thank you Kai, you truly inspire us!
We get great help in not just identification but also understanding the plants from you in India as well.

Posted by swanand 3 months ago (Flag)

Interessanter Artikel über und nett die Person besser kennenzulernen, die mich "angeworben" hat (CK im DBG-Forum). Und ja, Du hattest Recht, man kann hier wirklich sehr viel Zeit verbringen - und es macht tierisch Spaß! Dir alles Gute !!!

Posted by pantalaimon 3 months ago (Flag)

Thank you Kai, we always appreciate your curation and IDing about so many vascular plants in East Asia.
I really sympathized with your feelings of being helpful to the iNat community and the pain of depression. I wish you luck with your next career.

Posted by utchee 3 months ago (Flag)

Thanks for all your hardwork Kai! You are welcome to join a facebook group for Caribbean plants,
you will enjoy it for sure!

Posted by maribela 3 months ago (Flag)

All my best wishes for you and I really hope one day you can come to visit South America, this place full of such wonderful plants. Thank you for your dedication to biodiversity knowledge :)

Posted by jurubeba 3 months ago (Flag)

Thank you, Kai, and best wishes!!

Posted by natforlife 3 months ago (Flag)

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