Disagreement over correct species name - what is the best course of action here?

There is a bit of disagreement over what to call a certain species at the moment and I am wondering what to do in this situation, and whether there is any sort of official guideline for iNaturalist. I won’t name the taxa involved (we’ll go with ‘name A’ and ‘name B’) so that they don’t get flooded with people making comments, but there was lots of discussion on some of the posts about which name was the better one to use, with people making good arguments on both sides. I am very far from an expert on this group, but it seems quite obvious that further studies will be needed before unanimous agreement is reached.

The main issue is that everyone agrees that they are all conspecific, and neither name is being used for any other species here on iNat, and yet there were sightings spread between the two names. My thinking was that it would be far better to have all of the sightings under just one name for now so that they can be easily found etc., even if there is not a consensus that that particular name is correct. That also ensures that when the situation is fully resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, a taxon change could quickly assign the correct name if it is different to the one we are using.

The observation with the greatest number of comments and with the greatest number of relevant experts weighing in decided on name A, and so I decided to go through the sightings under name B, link to that observation, and ID them as name A with a short explanation that it would be better to have them all listed under one name even if there is disagreement that it is correct. However I received a lot of comments mostly to the tune of “name A is incorrect, we should be using name B here because so and so uses that name”. I feel I would have gotten exactly the same response if I had chosen name B instead. And now it seems that there are very few observations under either name currently, with most of the sightings locked up at genus level.

Is there a general way of dealing with these sorts of problems on iNat? Personally I have no preference between the names because I don’t know enough about the issue, but it seems incredibly counterproductive to have them split between two names or stuck at genus because people disagree over the correct name rather than disagree with the identification itself.

Some moths have had different spellings of species names. I presume the issue was resolved by going back to the original description of the species. Taxonomically, this is the correct process. Track down the original paper, and the spelling/name is the correct one. Google Scholar is a way to track that stuff down.

By design, iNat does not support multiple different scientific names for the same species concept. If you all agree there is only a single concept in question (same range, same physical characteristics, etc.), then one name should be swapped into the other via a taxon change.
I would suggest starting a taxon flag for the discussion of which name to use.


I wish it was that simple! It’s not that they are the same name with different spellings, it’s that they are completely different names. My understanding is that one name was elevated from synonymy/subspecies status, but the paper that did so was not particularly thorough and there is a great deal of disagreement over which name of the two names is correct for this particular species. Some people use the new name and some use the old, but they are very different names and not just a minor difference in spelling. In this case neither name is being used for any other species here on iNat so neither would cause problems at this point

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As said I am not really an expert on the species at hand but my understanding is that both names are still valid due to it being a species complex, so in this case I do not think synonymising is a good idea. I’m not sure if I’m explaining it properly though

The best course of action is to flag the taxons in question and provide a link to the relevant resources. As I understand it iNat uses several different sources for the official species names (plants one source, arthropods another, etc) depending on what the authoritative source is, nd names generally are not updated or changed unless they’re confirmed in those specific sources, which can take a long time sometimes.

A research paper presenting evidence for a change or division in species name is a valuable resource, but unless that distinction is confirmed by the source iNat relies on it is unlikely to get changed here.

Providing a link to the paper in the comments on the observation is often useful as that provides people who are arguing over the correct name a hard resource to use to back up their arguments even if the situation hasn’t been resolved at a higher level yet.


It also depends on which group the species in question belongs to.

If it falls under one of the categories to which the site assigns an official reference to follow, the name used should be the one in that reference unless a formal deviation is applied.


In this case iNat does follow an official resource and that resource recognises both names. I think that the holotype of species A is from a remote location, holotype B is from a different remote location, and all of the iNat sightings are from in between these two locations. The relevant literature does not make ‘official’ comment on these in-between populations, so there is disagreement over the name. Everyone agrees that all of the sightings currently on iNat are conspecific though. I will try to get someone of more knowledge to comment here

Not sure I follow but if they really are conspecific, i.e. the very same species, then there really is only one choice of name, the oldest.

The two names are (probably) not synonyms, but due to specimen mixups and unthorough taxonomic work nobody is certain which of the two names should apply to the species

This sounds kind of like the little issue in Bumble Bees with Bombus bohemicus or Bombus ashtoni in North America. B bohemicus is a Eurasian species and ashtoni is North American, sort of. It appears that ashtoni is actually bohemicus, but both are listed as species on iNat and both have several NA records (about half and half) even though everyone pretty much knows that in NA those two are the same, but we can’t decide which to go with, and you’ll even see notes in those observations where people will ID for one and then in the comments put “=other” or refer to it as ashtoni/bohemicus.

Is that kind of like what you’re having? Currently what I do is if I’m the initial ID’er I lean towards bohemicus, but if I’m agreeing, I’ll just go with whichever. Hopefully, someone will sit down, write a long paper, and degree which one we use in North America, but that hasn’t come.


Yes that’s very similar to the issue! My reasoning was that it would simply be much easier to have all the observations under just the one name for now, even if there’s disagreement that it is correct. The bigger problem now though is that there are virtually none under either name, because they are all locked up with disagreements and are stuck at genus-level. Everyone agrees that all of the observations represent the same species, so it is utterly pointless in my view to have them stuck at genus because of a disagreement with the name itself rather than with the identification

It might be because of how rare bohemicus/ashtoni is in NA (might be the next Bombus we lose), or because no one has a good argument that it should be one or the other, but thankfully ID’ers seem to just except both names. Might be worth doing in your case, if an observation is ID’d as one, agree and put a note =other. Might help to fill out the range map(s).

To put a light at the end of the tunnel. We used to have a similar situation with Bombus fernaldae/flavidus: again, both species listed (flavidus Eurasian, fernaldae NA), but there were suspicions that they might be the same species. Thankfully in this case, everyone just went with fernaldae for NA. Recently some people did sit down and look at the genetics, chemical, wings, color pattern, ect. and concluded that they are in fact the same species, making this the widest range species of Bombus in the world right now. So in the near future, B fernaldae will be listed as Inactive Taxon, and we are currently using B flavidus. So that may come up for your problem species.

To quote the opening sentence of the paper presenting the findings of the fernaldae/flavidus problem:

“Recent bumble bee declines have made it increasingly important to resolve the status of contentious species for conservation purposes. Some of the taxa found to be threatened are the often rare socially parasitic bumble bees.”

So hopefully someone will do that with yours.


I have hope that it will be resolved in the near future! I think in this case it is a bit of the opposite, in that it is a species complex and the ones we actually have sightings of probably do not represent described species (but maybe they do - I am not really certain). We shall have to wait and see

I know of several such issues. I tried to get one resolved (Malus pumila and Malus x domestica are names for the same species, cultivated apple) and got a message that they have been, but both names are still available in iNaturalist. There are all kinds of problems! We agree on the species, but disagree on its correct name. We disagree on the proper rank of a distinction (two species, two subspecies, unnamed forms within a species). What do we do with “despeciation” where related introduced species are breeding together where introduced? Are two names really synonyms, or not? What if any name is available for cryptic species?

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