Change how the site handles hybrid taxa

I have some problems with how the site handles hybrids, so I’ll cut to the chase and put my 3 proposals here. Most of this is regarding the consistency of pages, removing extra work for curators who have to make or are asked to make the pages, and then in terms of being able to use hybrids as an ID in an environment where the correct “×” symbol cannot be used.

My suggestions are as follows:
1. The symbol × should be treated as synonymous with the letter x. If a hybrid taxon page is made with x, it should replace it with × on creation of the page. The symbol sure isn’t on my keyboard, not to mention some people don’t realize this is important and just make the page with the normal x anyway. This should apply for searching and taxon matches too – if I’m entering bufflehead x common goldeneye, it won’t match bufflehead × common goldeneye, which is a problem, especially on the iOS and Android apps where the × cannot be used readily.

2. Hybrids and GenusHybrids should be exempt from taxon framework rules – meaning, it should not prevent us from making hybrids even if the taxonomy is “locked”. There are too many to warrant bugging taxon curators every single time. Two categories that often hybridize, birds and reptiles, are locked, meaning we (regular curators) can’t make hybrid pages without continually bugging an admin (or taxon curator). There are more hybrids needed on the site than you’d think – this isn’t just a one-off problem. The “solution” in many cases ends up being just not making a page at all, which means these hybrid records fade into the genus. Not useful!

3. I’m proposing a new way to make hybrid taxon pages. Right now it is a bit finnicky in terms of making the page as if it were a normal taxon. The page becomes standalone, at genus, with no connection to the parents. It would be good to have a page where I can choose the two parent taxa from selection boxes, and then have site automatically combine them into the correct format as a taxon page. This would also solve proposal 1 above where users may not use × instead of x as intended. If you try and makes hybrids through the usual taxa/new page, it should redirect you to this new page.

As an addendum to proposal 3, I imagine this workflow:

  1. You visit the hybrid taxon creation page.
  2. You enter the two parent taxa in selection boxes.
  3. The site makes a new page, linking these two parents (if one does not already exist). It differs from a normal taxon page in this way because of this “connection”. It will have links to each parent species. The taxon name will combine the two parent species, and then applying the correct × symbol, which helps avoid an issue noted in proposal one.
    3b. (optional) it would also create a synonym scientific name with the same name, but × replaced with x, meaning it can be searched with usual keyboards (and on iOS, Android)
  4. The taxon page will automatically create its own common name using that of either parent. In the case of bufflehead x common goldeneye…well, it is fairly self explanatory.

There may be a hassle with regional names – my suggestion is the system should search for matches in both parents, and add those as possible. For instance, it finds a UK name for each species, and makes that as a new name and applies it automatically to the “UK” region. If it only finds UK names for one species, nothing happens.

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I agree with all of these points, although this probably means all the existing hybrid and genushybrid entries will have to be overhauled

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I wrote a feature request draft a while ago (around when the new forum started) sort of related to this, but never got around to sending it because I don’t interact with hybrid taxa very often on iNat so I wasn’t very confident. Anyway here it is:

I know that would require quite a bit of development and doesn’t directly connect to the proposals in this thread, so feel to move or delete this post. I just wanted to get it out in a place where it’s kind of relevant.

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I was under the impression that hybrid taxa are strongly discouraged, or at least this is what the Curator Guide says:

I’m not saying I agree with this, since hybrid taxa are common in botany, and we work with them on an almost daily basis, but is this discussion not at odds with the Curator Guide?

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I can’t speak to birds, but I feel like on the reptile side of things, some folks are often quick to want to ID as a hybrid without strong evidence (probably because it feels cool/special to find a hybrid or think you have). I feel like the instructions in the Curator Guide discouraging the use of hybrid taxa are good in the case of reptiles where convincing evidence is often not possible from a photograph alone and I would generally be uncomfortable adding lots of hybrid reptile options. I too can get frustrated with the taxonomy being locked and a little slow to keep up, but I think in this case it’s good to err on the side of fewer hybrid taxa.

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That guideline should simply be dispensed with, I think. I don’t think much thought went into it (the desire for a hybrid name recognised by an external authority is just perplexing!) but it seems to be largely ignored by users, anyway. Hybrids are very common in plants and reasonably common in some animal groups and to stop at higher-level taxon ID loses a lot of potentially valuable information.

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This also brings up the debate of dividing between “consistent” hybrids, and “inconsistent” hybrids. In plants there are many “consistent” hybrids marked with unique names, like Viola xWittrockiana. But then others which are not. It is hard to define this boundary in many taxon groups, like insects, and birds.

I would agree with removing that rule on the curator guide.

I like the idea of being able to automatically “construct” hybrid taxa by linking two species. As long as there’s some reasonable way to vote for it. I’ve found hybrids that I have never seen descriptions of and it would be great to be able to track them (or have people refute them). Not juggling votes to vote for it because the discourse voting system may be removed at some point from this forum

Except votes are probably how the staff work out what people actually want or not…there’s a trend with number of votes and whether threads fade into the void or not!

Some of the staff and moderators have been discussing removing the voting system because it isn’t working as desired

I find hybrids to be absolutely fascinating, and I would love to see this implemented. I feel like we’re missing out on tons of really good data by having so many hybrids just sitting at genus level, lost in a sea of the blurry unidentified observations.

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Chiming in here as a user and curator on the site…

I would love to have better tools to help create hybrid taxa, link them to their parent species, etc. So I support the feature request for those reasons, assuming they would be technically feasible.

I’m not in favor, however, of doing away with the current curatorial guidance on judicious use of hybrid taxa. I think removing that would create some slippery slopes that curators would later regret.

For example, do we want to encourage every orchid enthusiast to post their favorite hybrid cultivar, and ask the curators to create the right hybrid taxon for it? (Assuming the name they have is even correct?)

More generally, someone posts an observation and says, it’s A x B, please create that taxon for me. Then someone comments, no, I disagree, that’s A x C, please create that taxon too so I can post a disagreeing ID. Etc.

I think scenarios like the above are some of the reasons for the wording in the existing curatorial guidance.

That said, we have relaxed the curatorial guidance in some specific cases, where there was discussion on a flag and some consensus was reached. That works for me, but not a complete wild-west of hybrid taxa.

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Hybrids are really important in nature - they are the first step to introgression, and introgression allows many species to acquire new alleles and traits and adapt.

Anyone who suspects they are looking at a hybrid, and can suggest a possible parentage, should be encouraged to do so! And they should be encouraged to distinguish between “suspected hybrid” and “known hybrid”.

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Then again Jim, is letting people make infinite hybrid taxa much different to letting a curator make any species taxa? If they are making a lot of hybrids I would hope that they are actually finding legitimate mixed parentage which is worth documenting. Curators abusing the taxon creator without proper backing is an issue that occurs outside of hybrids, too.

I guess I would want to see examples of this being a widespread issue. But without derailing the focus here on hybrid taxa, I think raising taxa that deviate from our guiding documents and taxonomic references, without discussion and consensus first, should be discouraged whether or not hybrid taxa are involved. The less certain nature of hybrid taxa and their parentage (in general), relative to most “regular” species (in general), will inherently make this more of an issue for proposed hybrid taxa.

Definitely agree with this. And I would say suspected hybrids can be noted in comments, and known hybrids can be added as taxa.

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I have photographed some hybrids, in groups known to hybridize. I’d like something better than the genus name to use for them. When they’ve been named (Genus x nothospecies), it’s simple, but some don’t have names and I still want to get some kind of name made. I’ve put in one flag to request one (Raphanus), but no news.

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One thing that does remind me of is that a solution needs to be able to handle a unique name for the hybrid, if one exists. Carex x inserthybridname as opposed to a default Carex species1 x species2.

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That Raphanus hybrid (if you mean sativus and raphanistrum) is a bit complicated, else I’d have already made it. I think sativus is already a hybrid with raphanistrum taxonomically, and I’m not positive on how they should all be treated.

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There are a few wrinkles that need to be accommodated.

Firstly, hybrids are usually listed alphabetically (i.e. Leucospermum cordifolium x lineare) if the female parent is unknown, but where known the seed parent is listed first. This will need to be accommodated.

Secondly, there are many triple and quadruple hybrids: many Leucospermum cultivars on iNaturalist from California are 4-way crosses. How will iNat cope with this? Do you propose selecting one hybrid and adding it to another (species or hybrid) as parents in the tool?

Thirdly, many hybrids have many cultivar names. These are simply “common” names, and iNat copes with these quite well (e.g. https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/733722-Leucadendron-laureolum-×-salignum - those listed are just the most commonly cultivated cultivars). The beauty is that anyone who knows that they have “Jester” will get the correct hybrid name if they enter it in the ID box. I presume that your notes on the standard “common name” do not preclude the addition afterwards of the additional common names.

I disagree that × should be replaced by “x” in the “species” name. But the “search” within an ID box should regard an “x” as equivalent to the × in the name. And I have requested that the × be available somewhere on the “create a taxon page” for copy-pasting, because finding one to insert into the name (or remembering its ascii code) is a pain. But that simple expedience is still outstanding. But having it automatically convert on saving is cool (provided it copes with multiple instances of “x”).

Lastly, I would prefer it if hybrids listed at the end of the lists on the taxon pages, rather than intermingled with the species names: e.g. https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/711689-Alata (taxonomy tab).

otherwise I wholeheartedly agree with the original proposals.

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