Avoid adding new taxa with no observations?

In many genuses, species are organized into sections and complexes. When us users add an observation of such a new species, it is not put into the right section and complex. That can easily happen in genuses such as Rubus where the taxonomy is really complicated (subgenus, section, subsection, series). It makes good sense to add the species in bulk in the right categories, because otherwise it leads to disagreeing votes (e.g. with a current section-level ID) when in fact it is just a closer specification.


Personally if I can I’ll add whole genus if genus isn’t super big or I gradually finishing those large genera. In Platyhelminhes we have several ‘superuser’ identifiers who can work with those species on very professional level once such species is spawned in their identification queue. It saving their time on flagging and making work more convenient here. Batch adds saving also my time because I know which genera or papers I finished. Also there are no RSS/watch notifications for taxon related flags so I consider batch adds more convenient. In general I recommend to know your community and make own guide based on that. If taxon don’t have observers or identifiers it’s probably wasted time but if those positions are occupied it may be worthy in long term basis.

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It seems like it should be OK to add taxa that are likely to have observations, even if there are none currently.

However, adding many obscure taxa that are not likely to be identified by photo causes errors and additional work for curators. For example, maybe there’s a genus name change. A user requests the addition of the new genus. Some species are left behind in the old genus, and some new species are added to the new genus, duplicating those in the old genus. Then when the new species are moved, they may need a slight name change to match the gender of the new genus.

This particular problem isn’t huge, and it isn’t limited to taxa without observations. But there are lots of comparable situations, and it illustrates how additional species require additional labor.

I don’t see any major problems adding some species without observations, but there would be a significant amount of manual work (if you can call something as complex as editing a giant database from 10,000 locations around the world while millions of users are accessing it for observations “manual”) required to maintain a complete or near complete taxonomy catalog of all life forms. Taxonomy is a moving target, and the more data there is, the more there is to maintain.

From my narrow point of view, there seems to be a pretty good balance of taxa in iNat, along with a good system for adding and maintaining new species. But when adding new species, we shouldn’t forget that they will require attention in the future. It’s exciting to add a newly described species that has or will have observations, or a species with an observation that’s new to iNaturalist. On the other hand, it may be a lot more efficient to omit a species that has not been seen recently and/or is likely a synonym, at least until there is an observation for it.


It’s not just additional labor, it also makes the overal taxonomic database larger, meaning search indices need to take all of those nodes into account, etc. So there are technical, database-related downsides to supporting unobserved taxa as well.


This is the main thing I was thinking of when I spoke of “database clutter”. There’s some skepticism above about this, but it makes sense to me.

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Tony, would “maximizing the performance of iNaturalist” or some such be considered as a future subject for a blog post? There’s been a distinct shift in guidance over the past several years, much of which (like this) seems to be driven by concerns about site performance and memory usage. Other than a vague notion that places are especially expensive, all of this is very opaque to me, and I would be very interested in knowing what curatorial tasks might help overall site performance.