Allow non-curators to add obsolete scientific names (synonyms) to the taxonomy

Why can’t non-curators add obsolete,inactive scientific names to the taxonomy ? I do not qualify to be a curator since I have no biological training or expertise and am just a ‘bottom-of-the-pond’ non-scientist Citizen Scientist.
However I do think I am capable of adding old, obsolete,
scientific names to the inat taxonomy, just as I am able to add names in Ndebele, Kalanga and Setswana. Why am I restricted and unable to do this ? Why is the job given only to those high qualified as curators yet the work is quite menial ?

I do think there is a vast shortage of obsolete, old scientific names in the inat taxonomy and those of us who are hardworking, non-curators could do this task without causing too much damage.

Why ?

jfyi you don’t need to have specific education to become a curator.


Why add obsolete names? I think the taxonomy only works to use one name per species, which should be the valid name. I assume you mean species name, unless do you mean common name? Only one common name can be prioritized too (per language). Anyway, you can still apply to be a curator later if you think you’ve gained enough experience and see how your application is evaluated.

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It can be useful if taxonomy was changed, but old names are still used widely, our local large botanical website uses stable taxonomy that is different from POWO, so it’s just faster to use that name and see current valid name other than googling up what’s the latest name of the plant (which can be hard for many users).


I think obsolete scientific names have great value because we can use them from aging scientific papers to search for the most recent valid name. What happens if we dont know the valid current name and only know an ancient name ffon a 19th century paper. How do we get from the old name to the current name using iNat if the obsolete names are not in the taxonomy. I think there can be many vernacular names from one language that should be in inat. Here in Africa we have diffent names for tall and small plants, male and female plants, singular, plural and many. Different names used by the elderly and the young and names vary according to dialect and differ from one village to the next ! Surely the more names there are in the taxonomy the better to making searching easier. Sadly the inat vernacular names database doesnt distinguish between male and femal plants and singular and plural words. I wish it did.


i dont have any skills or natural history knowledge. Im just a beginner bit I could do the donkey work of adding obsolete scientific names that are not in current usage.

POWO often seems to be out of date and not keeping up with the latest names in the literature.

That would be a problem for fungi.

For fungi the iNat taxonomy currently has 16,000 species names. That is a relativley small number and maintaining the taxonomy is barely manageable by current fungal curators on iNat. I would prefer we don’t add ‘obsolete’ names. We could not cope with the consequences. Here’s why …

Globally we know there are about 500,000 published fungal names. From the 500,000 names we estimate around 150,000 can be applied to currently known species and they have about 160,000 synonyms, leaving 190,00 orphaned names. Most of these are ‘obsolete’ in the sense they are old and we don’t know what they really mean and they will never be applied sensibly to modern observations. Plant curators have POWO as a starting point global authority for names and taxonomy. For fungi we have the names (IndexFungorum) but we do not have the global taxonomy. It is a common misconception that either SpeciesFungorum and/or Mycobank provide that service, but they do not. That means the few fungal curators we have need to maintain the taxonomy for the 16,000 species. That is done by those of us with access to the primary literature and an understanding of fungal nomenclature. We just about manage to do that for the 16,000 names we currently have. Consequently, for practical reasons, I think we need to restrict the iNat dictionary of fungal names just to those that are required for observations and for actively maintained checklists. No ‘obsolete’ names please.


I would agree with this.

@tonyrebelo I understand that you have not qualified to be a curator yet but you do have access to a lot of botanical literature and botanical expertise.! Do you think obsolete names have value for inat and could be added by non-curators with too much spare time ? It seems very cumbersome to keeo on having refer additions of obsolete names by flagging the expert curators and perhaps wasting some of their time and energy. Do the obsolete names clog up the inat system with useless information and distract from the currect accepted name ? personally i think non-current names have immense value for plants in the system and its great to be able to find the old acacia names for the senegalia and vachellia species which are current, since the older names are the ones found more often in most plant field guides here in southern Africa.

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Well, why not adding working common names that would solve the problem of outdated scientific names for the most part? Overall it’s more useful, though I share your view on this topic.


I’ve recently run into this with trying to create a checklist for liverworts based on some older publications and frequently encountering older scientific names missing on iNat. It would be convenient to be able to search for these on iNat and be directed to the correct taxon page under its current name instead of having to go on a long scavenger hunt through websites and literature. It would also be nice once you have the current name to be able to simply add the old synonym directly instead of adding them to the long list of things for curators to do. However, at the same time this exercise also revealed bunches of name conflicts, synonyms redirecting to the wrong species, or missing splits/merges. So ultimately it may not be as easy as simply adding a few names and I can see why it would be beneficial to have a curator look it over and confirm to make sure things are in line with iNat’s taxonomy.


Should be discouraged with the greatest possible vigour. It’s counterproductive and has no value whatsoever, certainly not for Inaturalist.

In many cases, there is no one-to-one correspondence between older, invalid taxa and current, valid taxa. Trying to keep track of these older names would be a huge job. While I do think that there’s some limited value in having older names on iNat in some form to allow searching, I don’t think it’s a high priority. I also still think a curator would be required to evaluate the older name and determine which current taxa it applies to. Given how few curators there are for many groups and how much volunteer work they currently do, I don’t think this is how most would choose to spend their time.


I most strongly disagree. There are currently way too many Lepidoptera species, which are found under two names. Checklist in one country uses one form of the scientific name and checklist in another uses another form and possibly also obsolete Genus. One of the names may be obsolete, but when that name is entered into name box, it is often found from external name sources and becomes a new species here. Then the distribution becomes a mess. It would be much better to have the other forms here as synonyms, which bring up the current name.


Obviously we don’t want ‘obsolete’ names in the sense of names that cannot be mapped to any currently recognised name being added as new taxa but that is not what is being suggested (It seems to me that this confusion may exist in some posts above - apologies if not). What is being suggested is the addition of synonyms to taxa - previously valid names that can be linked to a currently valid name. This information is surely useful. The more data the better - so long as the data is correct and clear.

Otherwise, as @JKT says people using old texts simply create the obsolete name as a new taxon because they don’t know the name has changed and think their observation is the first on iNat. That’s a real problem, which needs taxon swaps to solve - and taxon swaps create the synonyms automatically anyway: so yeah, cut out the middle step! This happens all the time in diptera too. (Although I would only bother with synonyms that are likely to be used in error - no need to find everything going back to Linnaeus! The Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in quickly otherwise)

But that’s not the question being asked, which is why can only curators add old synonyms when anyone can add common names. I guess scientific names do uniquely identify species and are ‘officially’ defined (in theory), whereas Common Names are understood to be woollier, so perhaps there’s a desire to keep more control for that reason. I’m not sure if I agree with the request or not, but one solution for anyone who has the ability and drive (not necessarily qualifications) is to apply to become a curator.


Ah, it’s about “obsolete names for taxons”.
I thought for a moment it was about “names for obsolete taxons” (like Vermes).
But I guess some names are obsolete because they describe obsolete taxons…

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Today’s obsolete synonym for a taxon is tomorrow’s resurrected species or genus. Old taxonomy never really disappears and it certainly lives in old references where being able to match an unused synonym with the modern name is helpful.


Speaking for plant taxonomy, it’s very complicated. There are lots of names that have been applied in many different ways for many different taxa over time and have often been misapplied. You can also have the same name with different authors that have been used in the past and only one of those is actually valid. Depending how they were publish, neither may be a valid name. While many synonyms are straightforward, there are so many cases where it isn’t that it is even confusing to the experts in the particular group they are studying. So, I would discourage adding names that haven’t been in use recently to iNat. There are plenty of taxonomic resources out that for people to look older names up on and many or possibly all of those are out of date and need work, especially as advances in DNA analyses are finally starting to allow the taxonomy of many tricky groups to be better resolved, though these same advances seem to have caused a lot of problems when people jumped to conclusions based on early DNA analyses that actually could not resolve the questions. That said, if there are reference guides that are currently in use and have names that are not on iNat, those names should be added to iNat at least as synonyms, unless it is a name that is misapplied and causes taxonomic conflict.


There is no requirement. As you may notice, there are many curators who are experts, many experts who are not curators, and many curators who are not experts, such as myself.