Discrepancy when observation taxon displays subspecies vs. species

I’m looking more for an explanation rather than a solution to my problem. Here’s what happening.


I identified this owl as the mainland subspecies of the Northern Saw-whet Owl by range and plumage. I get two community ids which should’ve brought it back up to species status such as this sighting…


But I didn’t. And you can see in the community id section of the owl observation, I have not done anything to change anything (or did I). Not that I’m complaining my owl is research graded to the subspecies, I just want to know why this sudden inconsistency in the ids.


For the first observation, the 2 IDers other than yourself selected (in response to “Is the evidence provided enough to confirm this is Aegolius acadicus ssp. acadicus?”) “I don’t know but I am sure this is Northern Saw-whet Owl”, so they did not explicitly disagree with your ID.

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I “refreshed” the song sparrow observation—by voting and unvoting an item in the Data Quality Assessment section—and it now displays the subspecies as the observation ID.

I guess the way the observation taxon displays infraspecific taxa changed sometime between February 2019 and now? That’s unfortunate since now there are many more observations at subspecies being incorrectly labeled as “research grade”.

Note: I changed the title of this bug report to reflect the issue you encountered.


@fogartyf’s ID in that observation is not a disagreeing ID


Ah, my bad. Will amend my comment.

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Agreed - do you know if this is a bug or intentional? This behavior is different than the way any other taxonomic level is treated in iNat.

I don’t think it’s a big deal for these two records (I suspect @birdwhisperer’s subspecific IDs are correct in both cases, even though they have not received “agree” votes at that level).

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Are you referring to a single subspecies ID making it appear as research grade at that rank? I can’t imagine it’s intentional, just another side effect from having an observation taxon and a community taxon. @kueda?

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Yes, the situation where the original ID is to subspecies and a single, non-dissenting species-level agree moves it to research grade at subspecies level.

This previously would only move the observation to research grade at the species level, which I would think is the intended function.

Ah, another chapter in my favorite saga, Subspecies Ruin Everything. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/20549107 is definitely a buggy situation in need of investigation. In case it changes, the ID sequence is

1 birdwhisperer: Melospiza melodia ssp. merrilli
2 fogartyf: Melospiza melodia [not disagreement]

on an obs by birdwhisperer, resulting in a CID of Melospiza melodia and an obs taxon of Melospiza melodia ssp. merrilli but the obs is RG. The observer has not opted out of the community ID (I think).

Hmmm, I’m not seeing how this is buggy.

  • Before the second ID, the Obs ID was the initial subspecies ID by birdwhisperer. All seems well.
  • The second ID was in agreement with the species, making the species the CID. All seems well.
  • The second ID did not disagree with the existing Obs ID, leaving the Obs ID unchanged. All seems well.
  • More than 2/3 agree with a species-level CID, making it RG. All seems well.

All seems like reasonable behavior to me. What am I missing?

The top line “Merrill’s Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia ssp. merrilli) Research Grade” seems to imply that the subspecies has the Research Grade. On genus level Research Grade Observations, the Genus level shows on the top line, even if the OID is at species level. ex: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/32838301

  • I wonder if this is a label-positioning issue, since my understanding is that RG always applies to the Community ID (which happens to be the same as the “top” ID in your example).
  • In your example, 3/4 of the IDs agree with something different than the OID, while in the earlier example only 1/2 agree with something different. So I don’t know if the two examples are directly comparable. Meaning, I don’t know for sure the intended behavior of changes to the “top” Obs ID. But the difference between these two examples still seems reasonable to me on its face.

No, it unfortunately appears in searches, on maps, in exports, etc as if it were Research Grade at the Observation Taxon. It’s been that way for a long time.


Wow, guess I hadn’t picked up on that. For maps and exports, at least, seems kinda contrary to the purpose of the Community ID. Unless the Obs ID is always supposed to just mirror the CID when not opted out of CID?

That’s a whole other can of worms - the use of Obs ID for those outputs is really bizarre.

Regardless, this is new and/or buggy behavior. I’ve made a lot of non-dissenting species level IDs on Obs with only a single identification to subspecies level and neither the Observer ID nor the Community ID has gone to subspecies at RG.

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Are you sure? Just tested it and the observation taxon still makes it appear RG at subspecies.

(same issue as https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/subspecies-at-rg-with-just-one-id/4400/2)

I’m pretty certain. I’ll try to dig up an example.

@bouteloua here’s an example (not mine, but shows that non-dissenting agrees previously did not elevate to subspecies RG):


Same issue as reported in the first post here. If you reindex the observation (fave/unfave or mark/unmark something in the DQA) the observation taxon updates to subspecies.