Adding an identification and stating that you believe it's as good as it can be

I was wondering if it would make sense to be able to add an identification and mark that identification as “as good as it can be” (rather than the observation).

There are a number of cases where it is reasonable clear that an identification at a level above species is not going to be able to be improved. For instance almost any identification of Sarcoscypha in the UK will be at genus level as there are a few similar species. Currently I can add an identification a genus level (optionally adding a comment if someone has identified to species level) and if there are enough genus level identifications I can click “Based on the evidence, can the Community Taxon still be confirmed or improved? = No, it’s as good as it can be”. However there are a few problems with this:

  1. If I’m the first to add an id then that doesn’t make much sense.
  2. If there are enough other identifications then that will automatically make it research grade without anyone else having to agree. If I’m wrong someone can vote against me of course.
  3. I think a lot of people don’t click this box even if they think an id can’t be improved, for instance I have seen a number of Sarcoscypha with 3+ identifications still in “needs id” where someone has commented that it can’t be identified to species level without microscopy.

I’m guessing there are a fairly large number of observations which are on “needs id” but are identified to the best level they can be without that checkbox being clicked. I have just over 100 observations which have been identified at genus level or above and I have no way of knowing whether the people who identified them think they can be improved or not. I could ask but that’s a reasonably big task, and it’s something I might try with future observations.

I want to know what the best possible identification is and if that’s not species level I’d like to know that and have my observation out of the “needs id” pool and I don’t think the current system does that particularly well.

Thoughts?

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I’m ambivalent about this. One the one hand, there are some taxa for which I mark “cannot be improved” a lot. Many species within Eleocharis comes to mind. However, theoretically a person could submit photos showing what’s in the basal and subbasal scales, a close-up of the achene, and how much the basal scale surrounds the stem. Or they might write that in the discussion. Should iNaturalist automatically say that all photos of the Eleocharis palustris/macrostachya/erythropoda complex should be labeled just “Eleocharis” (or this complex, if that can be done)? Or should room be left for a rare cases where there is more data?

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I used to not add „as good as it can be“, but recently I have started doing this for lichens. The reason is that some people are impossible to convince that in the case of some species groups it is not possible to reach species level from a photo or the photo is so bad that it is barely possible to tell genus or family. Some observers or IDers still strive to have them named as species. So sometimes „as good as it can be“ works. I must admit, that people just wish to have exact name for the things – its all semantics and human psychology. Therefore for some time I was thinking that there could be a way to satisfy scientific ID correctness and human wishes. I think, that some groups of species that cannot be IDed without some sophisticated means but morphologically are indistinguishable, could be united under „complexes“.This is done e.g. for „European raspberry complex“. For lichens it would be great „Cladonia chlorophaea complex“, „Cetrelia olivetorum complex“,etc. It would spare lots of time and headache for IDers and will be much more pleasant for observers than to get much less satisfactory genus level.

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I wasn’t thinking it would be an automatic process - I was thinking that someone would you would identify my Eleocharis as “Eleocharis (cannot be improved)” (if that’s what you thought) then if someone else agreed with that assessment it would become research grade. If someone identified as Eleocharis sp then that’d be a vote against the “cannot be improved”. It would also be possible for someone to mark as Eleocharis which would leave it in the “needs id” pool if some agreed with it. Does that make sense?

So you’d still need to click “cannot be improved” but it would be tied to your id, more obvious, and require two votes that this specific taxon cannot be improved to make it casual or research grade.

I want the opposite to the people you mention - I’d like my observation identified to the best level it can be and know that’s been done. I don’t want my observation sitting on “needs id” at genus level when 2 people had identified it and they know if can’t be identified to species level. What’s the point in that?

Yes, that’d be good. I’m not sure I totally understand the criteria for creating a complex (i.e. can we have a complex for 3 indistinguishable species in a genus even if they are no more closely related to each other than other species in that genus are. So is the “White-tailed bumblebee complex” valid or not? As far as I tell species in the complex are more closely related to other species in the genus but they are morphologically indistinguishable)

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According to my idea, it is going somewhat backwards science-wise, but being more naturalist-user friendly. I do not know anything about bees, so cannot say anything. But in the Cladonia chlorophaea goup that I have mentioned above, morphologically identical but chemically different species may form very variable clades: some nest together (C. merochlorophaea and C. grayi), some group with morphologically different species. The real position of the group is unresolved yet. So, in the present situation, I think that calling the whole bunch (ca. 7-8 species) „Cladonia chlorophaea complex“ will be not incorrect scientifically and make people happier than receiving ID „Cladonia genus“ (which is huge, bearing morphologically very dissimilar species). And it will make me very happy too, not needing every time when I disagree with the ID Cladonia chlorophaea, to add following phrase „One of Cladonia chlorophaea aggregate in which species can be identified by chemistry only”.

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I’m guessing this may also apply to excellent photos of insects in the field but ID can only reach genus level because species determination requires genitalia dissection etc?

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But what’s the difference between what we do now and this? You still need to make an id and yor name is shown for your vote “can’t be improved”. Same as why we need only 2 ids for RG, many groups won’t be able to get 3 votes to make it happen while now I just click on it and some Sarcoscypha gets the RG immediately (not the rarest example, but first that came to my mind).

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This has been common practice within a few wasp groups for some time now (so long as it won’t create a casual-grade observation). Some do require dissection of male genitalia while others require some other sort of microscopy. This also tends to be done with some green lacewings that aren’t even possible to ID under the microscope (as only their song is useful for diagnosis).

The current system tends to do this fairly well, though the opening notes of applying this to an individual ID versus to the community ID could have use as well (such as if it could prevent a casual grade observation). This could be very useful with green lacewing eggs, which even experts refuse to even attempt to ID beyond the family level from photos. At present, noting them as being “as good as it can be” would send them to casual grade, though they should probably be able to be research grade.

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The answer as to “why” is below, given by @jonathan142. Another answer - it will make life of IDers easier (I have explained above) and (possibly) decrease the number of not correct IDs, when the users strive to species level ID in the cases it is impossible to have from a photo. “Complex” with more exact name for it will make users more happy than just the genus name. Remember, weren’t you yourself dissapointed when told that species ID is impossible notwithstanding quality of a photo?

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The solution of this is just letting taxons higher than genus to be rg.

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This will not help in the cases of observers/identifiers like this: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/38336138

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How? You always can talk to a person or add a disagreeing id, even if it’s not the best using of it. For such examples maybe another version of disagreement is needed, that will “withdraw” previous lower id from community id without disagreeing with possibility of being it. As now it’s the weakest part of disagreement system.

You can check in his profile, how many times I had talked to him on similar cases. And consider how much did the talking helped.

Alright, that’s why I think there should be another disagreement choice, that happens all the time with multiple species groups, not sure why it wasn’t added when the disagreement system was renewed.

As a person with quite a few observations of Cladonia species that look nothing like each other but are all marked just Cladonia, it’d certainly make me happy at least! (thanks @jurga_li for doing your best with the current options we have :slightly_smiling_face: ).

Completely agree with this (but I fully understand that some people will be disappointed - even then, I think it’s much better to disappoint them in a way that gets the observations out of Needs ID than one that does not).

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I am in favor of ‘complexes’ if there is a group of closely related species you cannot distinguish from a photo. In the complex the species should be mentioned, that are included in it. That complex should not be too wide, like the ‘white ended bumblebees’, but species that need very close examination of the specimen itself. In this way the pool of ‘Needs ID’ would be much smaller and the ID is at a higher level than just ‘genus’. (I am still learning about the possibilities of iNat and have not yet found all the buttons you can use)

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How well does it work currently? I think there are lots of things one “needs id” with 2+ genus level identifications which can’t be identified to species level and one or more of the identifies knew that when they made their id.

For example one of my observations of Sarcoscypha. I put “Scarlet Cup?” in the description (not knowing at the time that Sarcoscypha is the best that can be done) and identified as fungi (as I wasn’t confident that there weren’t similar species and hadn’t looked up the taxonomy). Someone else identified as Sarcoscypha but I have no way of knowing if the identifies thinks that’s they best they can do or the best that can be done. I’ve since learnt that’s the best that can be done so I have identified as Sarcoscypha and voted that it can’t be improved.

I’ve seen “needs id” observations of Sarcoscypha where the observer has put a species, first identifier has put the genus and commented “Can only agree to genus without microscopy” then there are 4 more ids at genus level and no one has clicked “can’t be improved”.

I was assuming that the first identifier (who is the only person I know for certain thinks it can’t be improved) couldn’t click it because there weren’t enough genus level ids at that point, but having just found an observation with one one species level & one genus level id and tried clicking “can’t be improved” and found it does make it research grade.

There are currently ~150 observations of Sarcoscypha on needs id in the UK and most that I’ve looked at have a community id of Sarcoscypha plus multiple identifications. Worldwide there are over 1700 and I’m guessing a substantial number of those could be made RG by clicking “can’t be improved” but no one has done it which suggests the current system might not be perfect.

Sarcoscyphas can’t be ided without microscopy, but before last studies people didn’t know about how diverse they are, and some still don’t know, so if someone adds species name with no microscopy details added it most probably means they just don’t know that other cryptic species exist. If I see an obs with 2 genus id I click on “as good as it can be”, but I never looked specifically for them. It mean no identifiers think it’s their job to do so, looking at more rare examples, insects, you probably won’t get 3 votes for them, cause we have one or zero specialists for some groups. e.g. one of my flies were ided to the genus by expert for this genus, and further Id can’t be added as local species list is incomplete and no good key is done, the expert was on another website, when I add this fly on iNat I get none other ids. When I look at other flies in the genus on iNat I see almost all USA observations don’t have even one species id though there’re only 2 similar species, though I won’t add them as I”m not an expert and don’t wanna misguide, but they look pretty easy, though nobody added a single id (for many even genus id).