Change the conservation status system so that least concern cannot be inherited from higher taxa

Platform(s), such as mobile, website, API, other:
URLs (aka web addresses) of any pages, if relevant:
Description of need:
iNaturalist assumes that subspecies of a least concern species are least concern. This is a problem because there are cases in which subspecies of least concern species are actually threatened. In the cases above, @peggydnew has marked the subspecies as threatened in Tasmania, but before she did, these subspecies were erroneously considered least concern by iNaturalist. There may be many cases like this.

Feature request details:
iNaturalist should make some statuses, such as least concern and native, unable to be inherited from higher taxa. On the other hand, extinct and introduced should be inherited from higher taxa.

I’d support this, if it is feasible to implement. A related feature request is in review:

I’m not sure this makes sense from a taxonomic standpoint. If the species is native, by definition the subspecies would have to be native as well. If this isn’t the case, the species shouldn’t be marked native. (perhaps only the nominate or some other subspecies).

The same is true for conservation statuses, although I know things get complicated because external sources that decide these statuses don’t always keep this in mind. If there are conflicting statuses between the species and any of its subspecies, then the most correct thing would be just to remove the status from the species. But I understand that’s not always how the politics of conservation works.

No it wouldn’t; you can have one subspecies native to an area and another invasive. In that case they probably should be recognized as different species, but that’s how the taxonomy is currently. It is true in the other direction: if one subspecies is native then the species is as well.


Then the species, in its taxonomic entirety, would not be native. It would only be partially native, which does not align well with clades. Maybe it’s just my opinion, but I think we should be applying statuses as clades: a status should entirely apply to all descendents.

If different subspecies of the same species have establishment means that are different in the same location, then either “both” or “neither” of them applies to the parent species. “Both” might be more accurate, but I think “neither” makes more sense for the iNat system: there just shouldn’t be establishment means for that species and location because you can’t have both at the same time. Why should the native status of one subspecies have priority of the introduced of another?

That would be highly dependent on the situation, but this is certainly not always the case. Many plants have domesticated subspecies (or even lower ranks) that would be considered introduced in regions in which their wild sister subspecies are native.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the iNat system (like most taxonomy definitions) is based on the species, not the subspecies. So I think we should start our statuses at the species level and work out from there. But again, I understand that’s often not how statuses are decided by external entities.

This also doesn’t really make sense to me. “Native” and “introduced” are establishment means (editable by anyone) while “least concern” and “extinct” are conservation statuses (only editable by curators). Why group them this way? That would also be more complicated to implement.


Again, this is backwards. Inheritance of traits like native presence flows from tip to root, not from root to tip. Think of it above the species level: the honeybee, Apis mellifera, is native to Afro-Eurasia and alien in North America. The family Apidae is native in both, because there are native members of Apidae in North America. If all members of Apidae found in North America were human-introduced, then the family would be considered alien.

Hopefully you’re not getting too indoctrinated in cladism at Cornell ;)

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I agree with this opinion (assuming tip is a low rank and root is a high one), but how do we define the tip? Subspecies is not the lowest rank on iNat, so why say that is the tip? I think we should use species as the starting point because:

I don’t think Apidae should be marked as introduced or native in this case (assuming establishment means were typically added for families). To me, labelling something as native on iNat implies all descendents are native, but I do understand how some people would take that to mean at least one descendent is native. Note that I’m not talking about what I think is happening in nature (I know Apidae is native to North America), but how I think it should be labelled on iNat. At the very least, using different establishment means in different ways is confusing and misleading.

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As @thomaseverest mentioned, we need to separate the discussion of conservation status and establishment means. Conservation status is inherited in a cascading way from higher taxa, whereas native status is not. This makes sense, as many species have subspecies, and in the majority of cases, those subspecies are allopatric or parapatric, so inheriting native/non-native status would not make sense. This feature request, then, is focused on conservation status.

In terms of conservation status, assessments are usually made at species level (e.g., on the IUCN Red List), although exceptions exist for well-known subspecies (e.g., primates) and for subspecies on national or subnational red lists. That means that by default, the most common level at which conservation status will be applied is at species level, even where subspecies exist.

I think this issue can perhaps best be dealt with through better display showing at what level the conservation status was applied. So on the taxon page, it would be useful to separate inherited conservation status in a different section from those applied directly to that taxon. We can discuss whether taxon-level conservation status should always take priority over inherited, or whether it should be the most threatened that always takes priority. The latter is the case at present, as far as I understand, which leads to some odd behaviour such as the domestic rabbit subspecies being labelled as Endangered because the species as an entity (based on its wild, native populations) is Endangered, even though the subspecies conservation status has been set to Least Concern.

In a case like this, I think it should be made clearer on the observation that the conservation status is from a higher taxon. Instead of saying “Conservation Status: Endangered (EN) (IUCN Red List)” the tooltip could say something like: “Conservation status inherited from higher taxon: Endangered (EN) (IUCN Red List)”. The words “higher taxon” could be linked to the higher taxon page, or be replaced by the name of the higher taxon.

Screenshot 2023-03-19 at 11-56-46 Subspecies Oryctolagus cuniculus domesticus (Domestic Rabbit)

Similarly, on the taxon page itself, it could be made clearer in the banner at the top of the page that this status was inherited from a higher taxon. For now, it says: " “endangered” Globally (Source: IUCN Red List)". It could read exactly the same as the tooltip text: “Conservation status inherited from higher taxon: Endangered (EN) (IUCN Red List)”.

Screenshot 2023-03-19 at 11-44-22 Subspecies Oryctolagus cuniculus domesticus (Domestic Rabbit)