How is it decided which fossil taxa are added?

Officially, we are told, iNaturalist is intended for evidence that an organism was in a location, alive, within the last 130 years. But obviously there are exceptions: when I go to the “Taxonomy” tab for Subfamily Homininae, I see this:

Likewise, opening up the branch for “Ancestral and Modern Humans” gives me this:

Notice how many observations there are: 54 Australopithecines, 67 Homo erectus, 2 Flores Man, 135 Steinhem Man, and 30 Neanderthal. Now a few of these are pranks, but I just checked Homo erectus, and corrected the ID of 4 which were actually Homo sapiens; the rest are fossil skulls and stone tools. Legit observations – except that they do not fit the criterion of the organism being alive within the last 130 years.

And yet many fossil taxa are not added. In Sequoioideae, only the one extant species of each genus is there.

Several weeks ago, I made a day trip to Calistoga, where I could have logged observations of two species of Sequoia – first, in Kortum Canyon, stands of Coast Redwood (Sequioa sempervirens); then, at the Petrified Forest, some spectacular old-growth Langdorf’s Redwoods (Sequoia langsdorfii). But of course, there is no taxon for Langsdorf’s Redwood.

How is it decided which fossil taxa to create? Is it by geologic timeline – Australopithecines are more recent than Langsdorf’s Redwoods? No, Australopithecus extends back to the Pliocene, the same epoch when the Petrified Forest was a living forest. Is it taxonomic relatedness to us? If so, where is the cutoff? Is it some other criterion?

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I don’t think there’s criteria, it’s just up to what is imported to the iNat taxonomy and what is added by curators. I think I’ve read in the past that uploading lots of fossil observations is discouraged, but maybe try asking a curator to add the species you’re looking for.

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You can add manually any extinct taxa, but bear in mind staff wasn’t super cool about previous discussions of extinct taxa as iNat isn’t really for fossils and not for having full tree of those.


Curators have enough to worry about with extant taxa than trying to work out extinct ones. I’ll occasionally add extinct taxa, but only if there are observations of it and there’s good supporting literature. They are allowed:


Oh, I know that, and I wasn’t angling to have extinct redwoods added. But I was curious about why there is a full tree of hominids. Someone must have made the decision to do that.


Humans tend to be very interested in humans. There are few circumstances under which we don’t give ourselves extra attention.


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