Biggest peeve among naturalist

hmm. i feel like i’m a moderate not an avid lumper and the splitters have run rampant. But of course I am going to feel that way. It would be hard to argue that splitters haven’t dominated the academic scene lately, and while I understand there are arguments for this, the downsides and consequences are rarely addressed. Choosing to split something as a species rather than a subspecies can have direct, identifiable negative impacts not just to the science, but to the organisms themselves, as it makes monitoring and inventory very difficult. There are always tradeoffs, for everything, but in this case, i feel the balance has tipped way, way too far towards species level splitting.

It has absolutely no bearing on the struggles, effort, or results of people working to define the minute but important variations in biodiversity. What it does have bearing on is what ‘species’ and ‘subspecies’ mean and how we can best use those and other criteria to understand and ultimately appreciate and conserve the diverse life on our planet. We (and those who write grants and do floras) need to just appreciate the fact that very detailed genetics and systemology work that don’t result in ‘discovering a new species’ is valuable in and of itself, so people don’t see the need to make every tiny variant in fuzz size a whole new species. Please don’t forget that those of us who do applied ecology often have decades of inventory information and when you split things, there is no technically correct way to retain that data, among many other issues. It also becomes an outreach and education issue where you either lie to the person or else launch into a pointless description that something is early blue cohosh rather than ‘regular’ blue cohosh because the flower opened 10 minutes earlier or whatever, so you can’t tell what species it is when it doesn’t have flowers blooming.

I will try to refrain from derailing the whole thread into this as you can go read my past posts if you really want. But i will stay this: those who study plants within the academic species and describe biodiversity, etc, are some of the most staunch and important defenders of conservating this biodiversity too. This is really important work. But that being the case, please also remember to listen to those doing applied conservation and field ecology work on the ground, and when we say that something is causing a problem with significant impacts on the ability to conserve biodiversity, it’s worth at least considering that, right?


I wish English had that word, this isa ll too prevalent in the US right now (and probably all other areas humans live as well)


Feel free to tag me in for help on those, pretty much any kingdom I’ll give it a shot (hat tip to @lincolndurey for the idea heh).

1 Like

No–no one knows there’s a generation between boomers and millenials unless you belong to it (raises hand). Gen-X is the Rodney Dangerfields of generations-- no respect, but then we also get to dodge generational wars, so there’s some comfort. :wink: As for old folks, since I’m late to the game and am an expert in a different field entirely, I don’t know as much as I wish, which makes me tolerant of everyone else, I guess.


don’t forget us ‘xennials’ which basically only includes people born in 1979?


13 posts were split to a new topic: Albinism and leucism

True–it’s rather like being a pamphlet stuck on a shelf between encyclopedias. :grinning:


Please don’t stop saying things! When I say your “style”, I mean that you have an interesting perspective. I know that there is a translation problem, You have already taught me that the meaning of Russian words is more complicated than I had realised.


I can certainly understand how you feel* but I try to treat those situations as an opportunity to encourage interest in local wildlife and maybe share some information about whatever it is that’s drawn my/their interest.

.* I live in South Korea, where 96% of the population is Korean and an additional 2% is Chinese of various backgrounds so, as an obvious foreigner, I tend to stand out no matter what I’m doing. It has led to some interesting exchanges though, such as:

  • Being approached by a man as I was photographing a bagworm moth larva and having him ask what I was doing. We talked about bagworm larvae for a bit - with me doing my best to explain things in Korean - and then he got his wife from a nearby bench and started excitedly pointing out the larva to her and sharing what he had learned about them.

  • Taking photos of a robber fly inside a metro station and having a group of seven or eight people gather behind me to see what was going on. I heard a comment from one person that it was the largest wasp he had ever seen so I took that opportunity to point out a couple of the physical differences between wasps/bees and flies, with the robber fly serving as a model for my explanation.

  • Having an older woman tap my arm while I was photographing a hummingbird hawk moth to warn me that it was a dragonfly and I needed to be careful because they’re known for drinking blood. Not exactly accurate, but her concern was touching.

And then there was the time when I was on the opposite side of the exchange, having come across a father and son using the flashlight app on their phones to search along a set of steps leading down to stepping stones across a stream. I thought they had lost something but it turns out they had spotted a Chinese mitten crab and were watching it walk next to the steps. Definitely glad I didn’t scare them off with my approach!


There are a lot of new folks on the site, and yes, some of them use the AI (hence the large number of Peridroma sp. observations). Those I just identify. But if I have spent an hour deciding that a moth is Euxoa scandens and the id is changed to Euxoa messoria with no explanation, I would like to know their reasoning without having to contact them.
And if someone has bothered to get down to species level and it is wrong, I feel I owe then an explanation.

I carry a small mirror in my daypack - works great for photographing mushroom undersides.


“Choosing to split something as a species rather than a subspecies can have direct, identifiable negative impacts not just to the science, but to the organisms themselves”

This is lumping though, not splitting. We’re arguing the same point in this respect.

“What it does have bearing on is what ‘species’ and ‘subspecies’ mean and how we can best use those and other criteria to understand and ultimately appreciate and conserve the diverse life on our planet.”

Again, we are arguing the same point. Without splitting, understanding biogeographic patterns can be impossible. Some species/subspecies/varieties have very different niches and very different ecological impacts than their sisters in the broader group.

And to address your point of decades of inventory work. Why can one not just update the taxonomy of their inventory? If it is because the data in the inventory lack information the information to update the names (photos, vouchers, etc.), then I argue that the inventory lacks reliability to begin with.

“when we say that something is causing a problem with significant impacts on the ability to conserve biodiversity, it’s worth at least considering that, right?”

I’m not sure I can understand this. Systematists are trying to reconstruct the most accurate evolutionary history, and we want to use iNat data to help us tease apart aspects of our groups. When people refuse to update their ideas of taxonomic units within a certain group because it is an inconvenience to their routine and their past records, it is more than frustrating.
Taxonomic systems should be about accurate representation of biodiversity rather than conveniently IDed or politically motivated taxa for the purpose of getting grants in the fields of ecology and conservation.

I have a hard time with your arguments throughout, but I think it’s just a fundamental difference we have that we’ve developed from very early on :)

1 Like

I used to get peeved a little when the taxonomists “messed with” a species I’d known for years as one name but was now another. My thinking has changed some over the years.

A taxon is an artificial category in the Linnaean classification system. It isn’t real in a biological sense but tries to reflect the evolutionary reality as revealed by systematics. A taxon is also a hypothesis about relationships and thus not set in stone; it can be revised as needed. There is a One True Phylogeny of life on earth, and that’s what systematics tries to uncover, but the taxonomy we use to try to categorize life forms is a human construct and will never be fully adequate to capture the reality.

Out of necessity, iNat has to use one taxonomy or another although it can change as new information is discovered, new arrangements are proposed, and the prevailing philosophy of what is a species shifts. No one will ever be fully satisfied with any taxonomy, nor should we expect to be. You just gotta roll with it.


I couldn’t agree more.

1 Like

Just an opinion from the peanut gallery. Not directed to anyone in particular.

1 Like

That is a totally different thing. When it is clear that a person is interested (comment, question and tagging is an indication for that) and wishing to know, I always respond and explain. But the thing is that many users just employ AI without any thinking or tiniest bit of research (at least in Google) and do so repeatedly, why bother with explanations? Moreover, some of them just ignore explanations and add another ID and again from AI (apparently the next one that was offered).


:joy: I feel better just knowing about these experiences.

1 Like

how would one retroactively differentiate two semi-cryptic species based on field sheets? No, most inventories don’t have full vouchering as that takes tons of time and money and space. Applied conservation is in a constant state of sparsity and economic desperation, more or less, and yeah most data sets aren’t ideal for a lot of reasons, but it’s what we have and we have to work with that. iNat helps a lot in terms of at least photo vouchers but… often these new ‘species’ can’t be distinguished from photos anyway.

gonna really try to leave it at that because i don’t think this is going anywhere I haven’t already gone and i don’t want to pollute the forum but… for one reason or another this communication isnt effective as i don’t think you are seeing my point at all based on your last post.

1 Like

I am not sure whether you imagine the amount of data that has to be collected for monitoring (including the one for conservation purposes). And the amount of necessary data versus number of profesionals working in field and collecting that data. Moreover, can you always collect vouchers (e.g. case of threatened species)?


You make a good point. Thanks for the stories! I guess I just feel a little out of my depth, but I often do have a good sense of what I’m observing, even if not at the species level (so many hours spent on iNat & elsewhere . . .). I’ll try to get over my nervousness and give it a shot next time, though I think I’ll wait until it’s not something decomposing. ;) Who knows, maybe I can recruit another iNatter.