Etiquette concerning subspecific identifications

I sometimes run into situations where one ID is to species and one to subspecies, in either order. What’s your preferred method for dealing with these? Here are some examples:

Example 1: My observation of a deer
ID1 (me): Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)
ID2: Columbian Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus ssp. columbianus)
Observation is RG as Mule Deer. Should I “Agree” and send it to subspecies?

Example 2: Someone else’s observation of a junco
ID1 (observer): Northern Slate-colored Junco (Junco hyemalis ssp. hyemalis)
I come across it while identifying. Should I “Agree” making it RG at subspecies, add an ID of Junco hyemalis to make it RG at species, or leave it for someone else to deal with?

These are both things that I’ve actually encountered, although in the case of the deer my solution was just to start IDing all my deer observations to subspecies. The junco one is trickier, because while I don’t want to blindly agree to an identification I cannot confirm, I also don’t want to irritate the observer by making their obs (which they knew the subspecies of) RG at species level.


as always, ID to the level you know and no further. subspecies is a nice bonus but not really necessary. if you add a species ID to an observation that already has a ssp ID, don’t disagree unless you’re sure you know better.


I’ve just seen some people in the forum complaining that when they do the work to ID their observations to subspecies, someone else comes along and ignores it by identifying to species instead. I want to make sure I don’t bother anyone by making their observations RG!


If the subspecies ID is from the original observer, and you can’t confirm the ID yourself, leave it alone, and let someone else do it.

As was stated above, never enter or agree to an ID you can’t do yourself. Always ask yourself, if I was given the date, location and photo, what would my ID be in the absence of any other information, including what others think it is.


This is what I sometimes do if the plant has a subspecies ID and I don’t know that is correct though I do know the species. I identify it to species and when that box comes up I select the green band (“I don’t know”) rather than the orange band (“it’s not that subspecies though it is the species”). I believe the observation goes to Research Grade at the species level then.

Of course, if the person really wants agreement at the subspecies level, this doesn’t help.


This is what I do as well.

If the OP wants it to go to RG at the subspecies level, they can always tick “Yes” on the “Based on the evidence, can the Community Taxon still be confirmed or improved?” box in the DQA to get additional IDs.

Many times IDing to subspecies is a bit pointless, as these IDs are only made based on location of the observation and not traits present in the photo/sound evidence. As this doesn’t actually add any information to the record, in those cases, I would argue it’s a minor concern.


It becomes even more problematic when this happens:

For example:
First ID: Plantae
Second ID: all the way down to subspecies, but the observation is stuck at Plantae
Me: Well I only know the genus, but I will put that (without disagreement) to get it out of Plantae.
Everyone: what are you doing?!
Me: just getting it out of Plantae
Everyone: No, you knocked it back to genus
Me: I didn’t, I swear…


subspecies should be shown in the observation title if IDed so by just one user other than the post author. This can be useful to draw someone’s attention to confirm the subspecific identyification.

A bonus?

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personally I’m skeptical just how useful / helpful it is to identify populations of a species as subspecies. I’m especially skeptical when that decision is done with limited information, or based on range.


I just encountered an observation, actually many, that relate to this topic. The Pacific Trillium has over 10,000 observations. When I looked at the taxonomy it has been divided into 3 subspecies.
Hibberson’s Trillium - Trillium ovatum f. hibbersonii (true dwarf species)
Salmon Mountains Wakerobin - Trillium ovatum var. oettingeri
Western Trillium - Trillium ovatum var. ovatum

Changing 10,000 observations seems a bit overwhelming. Is it appropriate to comment on more recent observations that Pacific Trillium has been divided into the 3 subspecies and then let the observer choose the subspecies or do I ID the observation based on it’s location? It was stated the dwarf species is found on Vancouver Island. Another option is to leave it at Pacific trillium.


IMO this is the overriding factor. Yes, it’s mildly annoying that most of my observations aren’t RG because not many people have the expertise to identify them, but it’s not as bad as the site being populated with lots of wrong RG obs because one person made an incorrect ID and another blindly agreed with it.


Sometimes subspecies identification matters. For example, here in the Pacific Northwest we have three subspecies of Juncus effusus, one native, one introduced from Europe, and one introduced from eastern North America. I think it’s important to say which is observed. (Of course, very few people ever photo the leaf sheaths at the base, essential for subspecies identificaiton, but that’s a different problem.)


When I find that others are identifying my perfectly-ID species down to subspecies based solely on geography, I have to catch myself and not get frustrated. Cacti enthusiasts in North America are notorious for doing this and there is a subset of butterfly identifiers who insist on moving observations to the subspecies level when available. I can understand the arguments on each side of this taxonomic divide.

There are times when suspecies are defined only by geographic ranges, but that’s not always the case. In particular, there can be value in distinguishing subspecies when there are outstanding (or even unrecognized) taxonomic or evolutionary questions within/among populations. In one example I’m currently dealing with, there is a disjunct subspecies of the pug moth Eupithecia longidens (Geometridae) which occurs in Texas (E. l. kerrvillaria) which may eventually be found to be a separate and distinct species. At present this taxon isn’t even in iNat’s taxonomy and I have shied away from adding it precisely because we have nothing but geography to go on to separate observations. I’m collecting specimens which will hopefully be examined genitalically and for DNA (by other experts). These observations in central Texas are necessarily of the kerrvillaria subspecies, but for now there is no solid reason to either add that subspecies to the taxonomy or to ID observations down to that level. I have to be patient in this case.

The situation with populations of certain Phlox (Polemoniaceae) in Texas is bewildering. Taxonomists may never agree on population boundaries or character distinctions, nor even what constitutes a “subspecies” versus a “variety”. In such cases, I tend to just ID to species level and let the taxonomists fight it out–outside of the iNaturalist realm.


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