Developing a process for addressing potentially undescribed species reported on this site

In the last few years during which I’ve been curating Castilleja species (Orobanchaceae), I’ve observed the posting of at least 4-5+ potentially undescribed species or varieties, especially from Mexico. I’ve been keeping track of these in my own records and often contacting the original posters for further information, but communication often breaks down, due to many factors, including language barriers. Ideally, I’d love to see an organized and authoritative methodology developed on iNat that would facilitate the recognition and further resolution of such posting, both to make iNat more useful in documenting biodiversity AND to recognize the valuable contributions of the many “citizen-scientists” who post here. Some of these potentially new species are documented by new users of the site, from rural and little-documented regions, some of them degraded by human activity but possibly still harboring remnants of biodiversity, especially in the tropics and sub-tropics. Perhaps there could be a single portal for submitting potentially undescribed taxa deemed worthy of further study by specialists in different groups of organisms? This could also be a great promotional tool for the value of the site in general. Should such a portal be established, I’ll be among the first to submit what I’ve observed for consideration.


They’re usually added to project for first alive specimens. But separate one can’t be a big task to create.

What is the typical path to get acceptance of a new species? Publishing scientific papers? Submitting to societies or forgetting bodies in a field? I don’t even know.

I agree that it would be very useful to collect these observations. Really, anyone could follow up, but as you say, collecting them is a first step. Could be a project, but the utility would probably be somewhat limited. Probably better to have a separate site that can collect and organize candidate observations, facilitate discussion asking specialists, and keep notes on progress and action items.

Not sure what the best platform would be, but those are my thoughts.

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Mark, I’m not sure what you mean by a “portal.” @tonyrebelo has created a project Undescribed Species and Taxa that aims at something similar, but it has no “authoritative methodology” associated with it.

PS: Thanks for all your help with Castilleja!

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FWIW, @bodofzt has been really helpful to me in the past in translating and facilitating communication with Mexican users. I’d reach out to him if you’re hitting language issues in trying to track some of these new taxa.


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Well, yes, they need to be validly published, but that requires a physical type collection, unless this is impossible due to extinction.

Thanks, I’ll contact Tony about this Sounds like what I was thinking of, or at least a first effort. I envision involving people in multiple countries and moderators fluent in multiple languages, which, sadly, I am not, having studied Classical Chinese in my college years and remembering next to nothing of it. ;-D

Thanks, and, yes, bodo has helped me as well and is a valued contact and i-Friend. But I’m talking about something formal. Many folks posting on iNat, U.S. people included, have no conception of how to collect and properly process a scientific specimen. Then there are all the legal implications of doing so, and the nationalistic issues involved as well with collections from one country going to another. These messy issues actually inhibit the timely recognition and publication of new species and other taxa.

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My shoot-from-the-hip response is that most of the issues here (proper vouchering, navigating CITES, biopiracy laws, plant quarantines at customs, etc.) are ones where expertise and experience reside outside of iNat. I would think it would make sense to base an initiative like this in an existing global conservation organization (like NatureServe, although I don’t know if that’s really the right fit); feeding iNat observations to the initiative would be comparatively simple.

By way of example, my state’s Natural Heritage Program runs a traditional project to collect observations of listed species. They periodically search for suitable taxa in observations and add them to the project. (I think observers have to join the project in order for coordinates to be viewed, if they’re obscured, but of course undescribed taxa would probably be ID’d to genus and have no conservation status, so that wouldn’t be such an issue in your proposal.) That seems like it would work well as a “portal”, but I think the infrastructure of contacting observers and helping them with collections and export would probably lie outside iNat.


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