Batch transfer of a species

I am familiar with making new taxa on iNaturalist, as well as the various taxon changes (swapping etc.). But I was wondering, what’s the best way to deal with a lot of sightings of a newly described species that refers to a subpopulation of a species already on iNaturalist, with one population now having a different name? In the past, this is usually a small set of sightings so it is easy enough to just add ID’s to the new taxon in question.

Case in point: Sphinx dollii, a moth found all over the western USA and parts of NW Mexico is common, with many sightings on iNaturalist. Recently (May 2020) a new species of Sphinx moth (S. vanbuskirki Haxaire, 2020) was described. This refers to S. dollii populations from Texas. Is there an easy way to simply transfer the almost 100 research-grade observations of Texan S. dollii to S. vanbuskirki ? Or should these be identified as they normally would so that they can accumulate new IDs with people that agree with them? I started adding IDs to about a third of the sightings, but I saw this taking too much time, but also maybe “losing” some sightings from ResearchGrade since now they are only identified to the genus level given the greater number of S. dollii IDs compared to my single, new S. vanbuskirki ID. These will obviously eventually be rescued as more people agree with the new S. vanbuskirki identification, but I do not want to risk me inadvertently affecting too many sightings.

Thanks in advance!


I haven’t looked into the details of this particular example, but sounds like reidentifying them isn’t necessary and that we should do a taxon split instead:

  1. Check the Curator Guide to confirm whether the taxonomic authority for that group recognizes the new taxonomy. If so, continue on. If not, flag the taxon for curation, consider reaching out to the authority to see whether they’re just lagging or if they disagree with the new taxonomy, and discuss a potential deviation from the listed authority on the flag. (Apparently BugGuide accepts the new species, so continue on
  2. Create a new taxon for S. dollii that represents the “sensu stricto” / new concept of that taxon. As you create it, ensure it is inactive, or iNat won’t let you graft it to the genus.
  3. Create an atlas for the new S. dollii.
  4. Create an atlas for S. vanbuskirki.
  5. Once they are complete, make sure the atlases are activated.
  6. Draft a taxon split as follows: S. dollii (old taxon) —split into—> S. dollii (new taxon) + S. vanbuskirki
  7. Doublecheck that your atlases accurately represent the ranges for the output taxa and that your split is complete (e.g. to make sure S. dollii wasn’t split into any other new species too).
  8. Commit the taxon split. Now the IDs of the old S. dollii taxon in Texas will automatically be changed to S. vanbuskirki based on the atlases. If there are any areas where the atlases overlap, the IDs of old S. dollii will be bumped to genus.

Oh! And welcome to the forum. :)


Thanks for the detailed response. I think I can do this. Based on the authority list, there is not a global authority for Lepidoptera, let alone insects (and none of the few authorities that are followed by iNaturalist specifically cover Lepidoptera). Most of the taxonomy changes that I’ve dealt with for Lepidoptera were American Tropical moths where there definitely is no authority and so I always just cite the original source. I do realize that for North American species this is less desirable, but at least it seems that BugGuide is the main one for North American insects.

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The concern that I have for making atlases however, is that the new species is so recently recognized that it’s not clear if/where S. dollii and S. vanbuskirki overlap and whether or not they are truly allopatric. I have never made an atlas before and I would be worried that by doing it this way I could prevent genuine observations of S. dolli from extreme west TX being called S. dollii (and vice versa in somewhere like New Mexico). So the atlas route, to me anyway, seems like a less conservative measure than what I was asking about (a batch reassignment of pre-existing observations only, not future ones). I do not feel I have the necessary background nor is their enough presence/absence data for the two taxa in question to deal with this via atlas.

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The taxon split is only retroactive. It doesn’t affect future IDs.

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Ok good to know. I will need to find some time to devote to this eventually…

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I’m not entirely sure which direction is conservative in this case, but you can essentially make atlases as conservative as you want. If you split a single species into two outputs and you atlas some areas to both outputs (or to neither), then identifications on observations in those areas will go up to genus (or whatever the lowest common denominator is). So you can choose, based on the literature, or expert advice, or whatever, where observations should go to species A, where they should go to species B, and where they should go to genus because we don’t know.