Authors of papers requesting species additions to iNat database

Just curious, as I have seen this several times now if the curator community feels that in cases where authors of papers request that species be entered into the iNat database to align to their work that they should be required / expected to reveal their authorship in their request ?


I should emphasize that I am not suggesting inappropriate behaviour on the part of anyone where I have seen it. It just feels like a conflict of interest to not reveal you are the author of something you request be added.

In today’s world of self publishing and preprint servers it feels harder than ever to evaluate what is ‘published’ versus what has any degree of ‘scientific community consensus’.

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No, I don’t think it should be a requirement, nor do I fault authors for requesting addition of taxa they’ve named themselves, considering it can take years from publishing a valid/community-accepted taxon until the various databases finally incorporate it into their systems. If anything looks questionable I usually tag in a couple other people to take a look and confirm before making changes.


Chris, I’m not sure I understand the situation you’re describing. Does this refer to, say, a taxonomic publication for which an author wants more iNat observations uploaded after the article is published? or post hoc uploads of observations after some research paper? or ???

I don’t know about requiring, but I think it would be good form to identify yourself as an author on the paper if you’re requesting the addition for two reasons:

  1. A situation where a user requests an addition and provides a paper in support initially seems like two independent points of evidence for adding a taxon, but if the user is the author, this is really only one line of evidence towards including the taxon.

  2. It would be very useful for curators to know that they could follow up with the user as paper author if there were any questions.

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No I am talking about cases like in the post above this where someone requests that species x be added to the database when they are the author of the paper that seeks to establish species x.

Once something is in, whatever gets done on observations being added in outside the purview of what I am asking

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CAN I request that the species my colleagues and I have published be added to iNaturalist, with the expectation that they probably will be? Published in established journals. I’d be glad to make a summary of species to add and how they related to already-accepted taxa. And send a copy of the articles to curators of iNaturalist.

I ask because we’re sitting on quite a lot of photos that could be posted, if only the taxa were available. When I asked before, I was told we’d have to wait on POWO. I’m still waiting. Waiting.

Not knowing the context of the previous response you received, but given that

I would say yes. I would flag the parent taxon (Carex? :wink:) for curation with a short reason like “Please add new taxa,” then add a comment to the flag listing the taxa and, like you said, their relationships to any existing iNat taxa, so it can be determined whether splits are involved or not, etc. If the names are so new as to not even be in IPNI yet (for plants), links to publication copies (non-paywalled if possible) would be pretty essential. Then @ tag in some other knowledgeable iNatters to see if there are any questions or concerns first, and maybe an extra curator or two if opinions seem to differ.

And yes, it would be good to know when you are an involved author, so that any questions about atlases for splits, etc., can be directed your way.


As editor of a species list in wikipedia, a similar question came up the other day. Should species X, first proposed in a scientific publication dated February 2019, be added to the list?

For situations like this, wikipedia has the following policy: “Wikipedia articles should be based on reliable, published secondary sources…”

Since there are no secondary sources for species X, and since there are no extenuating circumstances, species X should not be added to the list.

Of course iNat isn’t based on citations but the moral of the story applies: original research is not sufficient to warrant new species. Secondary sources (publications, community input, etc.) are required.

I want to be very clear, I am speaking in general terms here, but the comment above speaks to the point better than I wrote it initially.

  • ‘published’ today does not mean the same thing as ‘published’ meant 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago
  • species authors have an inherent desire to see their names documented, cited, used etc. If the authors themselves are allowed to create those references, it is just a feedback loop.

I’m not saying it should be disqualifying if someone asks for a species to be added and does not disclose their authorship, just that if it is found to be the case, then at a minimum extra scrutiny should be applied to the request.


Most of our names have been or are being incorporated into relevant secondary sources, e.g. the Jepson Manual (California), Flora of the Pacific Northwest, and an unpublished but accepted treatment for Flora of North America. I’ll get started compiling lists and explanations, though other commitments will prevent me getting this done this week. (There aren’t that many species, but you’ll want a lot of information.)

Agreed. Authors should not be able to use iNat as a form for validating their taxonomy.
iNat should defer to external databases that are curated and hopefully reviewed by experts in the field.
If authors want their taxonomy to be incorporated, they should appeal to those external sources.

Authors can certainly flag a group for curation, but if no other validating source exists, I think iNat should wait until one does.

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Is it really necessary to have new or missing names in the database as long as there is no corresponding observation? Recently I found a record of a katydid species from Colombia a friend and I described in 2011. I could load the name of the monospecific genus from some external source, but not the species name (normally this works with names of katydid species so far nobody has identified). So I asked a curater whom I know to add the species name, and afterward I could add the species ID to the observation.

Same procedure with a new tree cricket species a colleague discovered on iNat and which was formally described some weeks ago (by the same colleague with the original observer as co-author). I asked the curator to add the species name and then added an ID.

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[Had to reply to someone here @sandboa :wink:, but my thoughts are mostly about the topic (and responses) more broadly, not all directed at your post.]

Personally I see the main purpose of the taxonomy in iNaturalist as being there to support the observations, the “basic units of iNaturalist.” We definitely have to adopt some standards to keep it from being a chaotic free-for-all. But any author who would look to iNaturalist to validate their taxonomy or professional credentials would be misunderstanding what iNaturalist taxonomy is for, and would not find it of much help in any case.

iNaturalist is not Wikipedia. If there is an observation in iNaturalist that doesn’t fit any terminal taxon currently in the database, but a validly published name (conforming to the appropriate nomenclatural code) exists that does fit the observation, then I think that name should be added to the database (appropriately sourced), however new or established it might be. Subject, of course, to later taxon changes if accepted concepts subsequently shift.

If the name is established enough to be in one of our taxonomic standards, but is not accepted by that standard, then that definitely merits community discussion about whether or not a deviation from the standard is warranted for that taxon. Likewise in the rarer case of newer but competing names, or names that conflict at higher taxonomic ranks in our tree.

But in the end, I suggest that iNaturalist taxonomy should be a community decision about what works best to support the observations (keeping it orderly being one aspect of that), regardless of whether a taxonomic author happens to be involved in some way.

And I do agree that it would be poor form for an author who is also an iNaturalist curator to add their own names without seeking broader community input first.

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OK, Chris, I understand now. Interesting question, since the publication of a new species name (or any taxonomic change) doesn’t necessarily mean it will be accepted by the general taxonomic community. I assume the alternative to such ad hoc additions to the taxonomy would be to wait for one of the stated iNat taxonomic authorities (The Plant List, WoRMs, etc., etc.) to include the new name(s) in an update? So how often is that happening?

Well the reality of the taxonomic breakdown on the site is there are at least 3 different categories:

  • groups linked to an authority and ‘locked’ - ie any variations need to be explictly defined as an exception, such as birds, mammals etc
  • groups linked to an authority, but still open - such as plants, where POWO is the defined reference, but the group is not locked to editing
  • groups not assigned any authority such as many insects, fungi etc

It seems that more and more of the updates are online, it’s not always a case of waiting years for the next prinit edition, but how fast those updates are processed, I’m not clear on.

Clements, for birds does it once a year, the defined authority for the group where I am a taxa curator publishes updates daily. But how long they sit on and review those, I don’t know.