Best practices for known, broadly classified, undescribed species

I was recently trying to go through observations of a known gall-inducer on chamise that has not been classified beyond subclass Pterygota (see gallformers entry here). Because there are several observations of this gall-inducer on iNat, I wanted to remove from the identifying pool by agreeing with the ID of Pterygota, adding the gallformers code observation field, and marking the ID as good as it can be. However, because the known ID is unprecise, the observation is marked casual when I do this, which reducing the visibility and accessibility of these observations. Has anyone dealt with a similar situation, and what is the best way to deal with this that you’ve found?

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Because they can’t be identified further at this time, I think it’s appropriate for them to be casual for now. A good way to hold onto them for future reference is with the observation field (which you’ve used), which you could supplement with a project to serve as as a landing page for this particular gallfomer.

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I disagree with marking them “as good as can be”. Eventually they will be identifiable. I only use “as good as can be” for species that are so identical that they can only be separated from each other with microscopic examination, chemical tests, etc. Since the gall-inducer is currently unknown I don’t think this applies.

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A strategy that I’ve used is to make a project for them. I’ve got one like that in Bombus that is likely a new species but hasn’t been listed yet, so to keep them sorted until that gets determined I made this porject https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/bombus-pensylvanicus-sensu-lato-part-b-chiapas

If this gets determined, then I’ve got all the observations right there to quickly get them ID’d.

I haven’t been marking No, on them, but in my case, there’s only three of us looking, and there aren’t that many observations in that area.

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Agree. I would also not mark these as good as can be, since filtering these out of casual once a name eventually becomes available would be a real hassle

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I wouldn’t mark them “as good as can be.” However, if they’re at genus level and get marked that way, they’ll go to Research Grade and won’t do harm. Anything that puts them into Casual would be a mistake, in my opinion.

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I guess I disagree fundamentally with this broader argument at some level (though I don’t have a strong opinion on this specific situation). The use of this field/box is always going to depend on our current knowledge. It’s always possible that an observation for a specific taxon could be identified more specifically in the future - we might find a character visible in photos that does distinguish taxa that we don’t currently know about; we might get better knowledge of a taxon’s range or phenology that allow us to ID more accurately based on location/date/time; the observer might add more info to the observation, etc. We can’t anticipate all future eventualities when using this field. This type of argument (that it could be IDable to a more specific level in the future) applies to literally all observations, and, if applied widely, renders the field meaningless. I think that the use of this field is always going to depend on judicious judgment calls by users who have a fair amount of expertise in the specific taxa in question, but those users are always going to need to rely on the best, current knowledge available to them at the time.

In this specific case, I think the situation meets the criteria for which choosing “as good as can be” is very reasonable. But, when choosing whether to tick the box, I would also take a pragmatic view and ask what the costs and benefits are. In this case, OP stated specifically

Ticking as good as can be accomplishes that removal from the ID pool.

The downsides listed are:

Since they are not currently IDable to subfamily or lower, having them as casual doesn’t really reduce accessibility in my mind. They’re still available on iNat (where it’s just as easy to access Needs ID as Casual), and there’s no way that they can be exported to GBIF with their current ID (subclass).

“Visibility” is reduced in the sense that they are no longer in the Needs ID pool, but removing them from this pool was stated as the primary reason to tick “as good as can be” so this is just another side of the coin.

Removing them from Needs ID could be beneficial in some ways as well, if it prevents erroneous IDs (someone IDing for the plant, mistaken more specific IDs that can’t be supported). Adding the observation field and/or using a project as suggested by @chrisangell and @neylon means that the observation will be quite accessible in the future when there is a more specific ID to apply, so I don’t think there is a major downside here.

So I think the decision to tick “as good as can be” is very reasonable here, especially given the use of the observation field (if this weren’t used, I agree that the cost of “losing” the observation in the Casual pool might be too high to justify ticking).

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Somewhat related current thread on keeping tabs on undescribed species, including on iNat:
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/how-do-people-keep-track-of-undescribed-species/48884

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I think this once again highlights the need for observations marked “as good as can be” to have a different category than the rest of the casual observation, which are typically marked as casual because they don’t conform to iNaturalist’s data quality rules.

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The problem is that just because one person thinks they’re not IDable further, doesn’t mean that an expert wouldn’t be able to recognize it. And once things get marked as Casual, they don’t show up in search results by default (which IMO is the real problem).

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But in the instances of two identical species, marking “as good as can be” on a genus level ID will bump it to RG and leave it visible. I see no downside to this, even if they are identifiable in the future through some currently unknown marker, marking them “as good…” does nothing to preclude a future ID. It removes them from the identifying pool where they would be floating around at genus level indefinitely. Could you let me know the downsides of this practice?

I completely disagree, they are not accessible to the general user as the system is currently. If you search for a taxon, the observations that are returned are RG and “needs ID”. “Casual” observations are hidden from searches. You have to understand the search and grading system to know to deselect “verifiable” to find them. Most users won’t know that they need to go through the extra step to see the additional observations.

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True, but in the example given it’s a subclass level ID. Anyway I’m not clear on how necessary “removing from the ID pool” is. Simply marking it as reviewed removes it from your ID pool, which is the more important thing.

In the example I gave, I’m not just thinking of myself. A genus level organism that can’t be ID’d in the field will show up in everyone’s ID pool taking up space when ticking the box and moving to RG cleans up the entire ID pool. Thus making more observations that truly need IDs more visible to identifiers.

The “as good” function is also necessary for species complexes because they won’t get to RG without it.

Edited to add: I’m unclear why it’s opposed to use the “as good” box for organisms at the genus level but encouraged for those at subclass if both organisms cannot be currently ID’d further?

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Well, if you have hundreds of “needs ID” pages for a certain genus that currently cannot be IDed to species, it would be pretty helpful to remove those observations that already have a certain amount of agreeing IDs (I am talking up to 8 IDs all stating basically the same - cannot be improved further) or are at species-complex-level with a sufficient amount of IDs, to make those observations sitting at that pile without any additional ID more accessible. Adding my 9th aggreeing ID or simply the reviewed-button is a waste of time at my end. By now I use that button frequently when I am sure to help other identifiers to safe time

If anything changes about the assessment of whether the genus ID can be refined, people can easily find those observations via filters later… easier then if it lingers in the needs-ID-pool with hundreds of other observations

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I completely agree. It often takes years to get a new species described, so I check the “as good as can be” box if an observation of an undescribed species has the best available ID.

Besides, since okbirdman has added the gallformers code observation field, we can find it easily and update it when we know more. If you go to the Gallformers page for an undescribed gall and click on the iNat logo at the bottom of the page, you will find all the observations that have that code–76 of them in this case!.

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