Big ol' backlog of taxon flags

Are you a curator with a bit of free time? There are a lot of unresolved flags on taxa. Helping resolve these flags is one of many ways you can help out on iNaturalist.

Progress / Backlog

Date Resolved taxon flags Unresolved taxon flags
March 13th, 2019 13,440 2,224
July 14th, 2019 15,605
(+2,165, or 17.6 per day)
3,052
(+828, or 6.7 per day)
November 17th, 2019 18,330
(+2,725, or 21.6 per day)
3,812
(+760, or 6.0 per day)

Common issues are:

  • Add a missing species
  • Draft and commit a needed taxon swap, merge, or split
  • Remove a misidentified photo from the taxon page
  • Mark something as native or introduced in a certain place
  • Assign a common name to be the default for a certain place
  • Graft taxa that are floating out in space, not attached to the tree
  • Fix the link to Wikipedia which is displayed on the About tab

If you’re unsure how to resolve a flag, you can always just skip it, or try reading through the Curator Guide, or ask your question(s) on the forum here in the Curators category. As you’re resolving flags, you can also use or modify these boilerplate responses to common taxon flags to avoid typing the same thing over and over.

*If you’re not a curator but interested in getting the tools to help with some of the tasks above, read through the Curator Guide and shoot an email to the iNaturalist staff at help@inaturalist.org. Please provide them with your username and how you would exercise your curatorial powers, such as an example or two of a taxonomic change you would like to make that abides by the policies in the guide.

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Ouch, worrisome trend for sure. Though I am impressed with the sheer number that have been resolved during those three months. A wonderfully relentless field season has kept me from pulling much of the weight recently, but fall and winter are coming… Thanks for the topic and heads-up for us all!

One thing I sometimes wonder is how many of these might be in locked taxa with only one or two overwhelmed curators, and whether another curator or two for those groups might be a good idea?

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I think one area where we could make a dent, if we could get consensus or a defined policy on how to deal with the situations is all the flags related to plant subspecies that POWO does not recognize.

There are a significant number of these (and many more which are not, but could be flagged) in the database, but there seems to be no guidance on how to deal with them.

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I don’t think there is going to be an easy guideline for this. Infraspecific taxa will need to be assessed on a case by case basis.

One clear issue, and I write this as a taxon curator, is you get no notification when something in a group that you curate is flagged. So unless you are actively monitoring it, it can be very easy for them to slip under the radar.

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Something as simple as ‘if there are no observations and no ID’s, and POWO lists it as a synonym, then align it to POWO’ would help give some guidance.

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Isn’t that already the policy?

Sorry, I thought you were referring to missing infraspecific taxa in POWO (since their database has not seemed very complete below species).

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No I’m talking about cases like this:
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/556178-Styrax-faberi-formosanus

POWO says that name is not valid, it specifically assigns it as a synonym of in this case the parent species. But someone, in this case apparently EOL where it has been imported from says no, that is a valid name.

To me that is a candidate to just get merged into alignment with POWO, especially as there are no id’s or observations. But I at least am unaware of any guidance that says that is acceptable to do.

My impression is that it has been the unwritten practice to do this, but yeah, maybe having it specifically stated somewhere would be good. In general, non-conforming names (in any group with an accepted framework) with no obs and IDs should be…?

  • swapped/merged into their accepted taxon, or
  • deactivated, and the inactivated name added to the accepted taxon as a non-accepted scientific name.

I’ve seen it done/recommended both ways, and it’s not clear to me if one has any particular advantage, other than the first option maybe being more automated for accomplishing the same tasks (and capturing any common names too on the inactivated taxon).

  • …and, of course, always checking to make sure the Taxon Framework Relationship is up to date for the accepted taxon.

Also, should we trust the taxon ID leaderboard to determine that no IDs exist, or would a specific search of identifications be more reliable?

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It’s listed as a synonym on POWO, there are no controversial comments/IDs, no one has flagged it to request a deviation. External sources like EOL and COL don’t picture into the taxonomic authorities that iNat references for taxon changes/curating. So unless you have reason to consider a deviation from POWO, I would just go ahead with aligning with POWO. I inactivated it.

Re taxon swaps vs. inactivating taxa with zero IDs:

Yeah, for these taxa with no IDs or other associated info, I tend to just inactivate them. Aside from any common names being transferred during a taxon swap, it also

  • takes longer,
  • transfers conservation statuses (which might do more harm than good),
  • adds a usually pretty useless dashboard notification to anyone who’s made IDs of the output taxon or is subscribed to the taxon for another reason (e.g. it is on one of their personal lists), and
  • the curator guide also says atlases and range maps get transferred, but I honestly haven’t delved into the particulars of that. That seems like asking for problems in any but the simplest of cases.

A taxon swap should probably specifically ask “Do you want to transfer the following items to the output taxon? :ballot_box_with_check: Vernacular names :ballot_box_with_check: Range map :ballot_box_with_check: Atlas :ballot_box_with_check: Conservation Statuses” etc

Yes, I do a specific search when I choose to inactivate rather than do a taxon change: https://www.inaturalist.org/identifications?taxon_id=556178&current=any

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Thanks, those are all things I hadn’t considered, and will be good to keep in mind. The likelihood of any of those things existing for a taxon with no IDs seems pretty small, but definitely worth checking first.

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