How many species lack the nominate subspecies?

How many species bearing one or more heterotypic subspecies lack the nominate subspecies in iNat taxonomy?

Wouldn’t it be reasonable to suggest curators to create the nominate subspecies when dealing with such cases?

Sorry in the case this issue has been already raised.

Sure, it is reasonable. They are hard to find, though. Perhaps there is a way.

There was a thread about nominate subspecies, looked like people didn’t really liked their existence.

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Could you please write the url of that thread? :wink:
I think that you agree that what people like is not always what is the best.
Also for an issue of coherence, unless we decide to ban all the nominate subspecies (but in the case, which would be the supporting scientific evidence?), we should ensure that they are present when there is at least one heterotypic subspecies.

Just as a very preliminary proposal: the creation of the nominate subspecies should be included in the guidelines for curators when they are missing, especially in the case of alignment with external references that may lack the nominate subspecies for certain species.
If the taxonomic checklist of the place “world” is available for download, it could be possible to pinpoint which taxa lack the nominate subspecies at present.

This topic discusses the opposite problem – species that have only the nominate and no other subspecies.


If it’s a polytypic species and iNat recognizes the subspecies in that species, how can the nominotypical form be excluded as its own entry? That makes no sense.

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Anyway it happens…

Few examples from the Italian flora:

Some others have a heterotypic variety but not the nominate one:

While this one, for example, has the nominate subsp.:

I wonder how huge is that phenomenon here.

I think that in some cases it culd be not a matter of excluding something but rather it happened that creating a heterotypic subspecies someone has forgotten for look up if the nominate one had already been created. Does it make sense?


Makes sense. I can see it being accidentally excluded, rather than intentionally.

Personally I’m not a big fan of subspecies for the animal taxa I’m most familiar with. (Can’t comment on plants.) Too many subspecies are either poorly defined (and should disappear after being re-evaluated) or are best recognized as full species. Just an opinion.


I’ve heard some argument that the nominate subspecies is confusing to those who aren’t familiar with taxonomy. At least with mollusks, IDing as the nominate would be considered redundant in the older days when all other subspecies were thought of as variants from the nominate. We seem to be moving away from that now though.

In mollusks I’ve only seen one subspecies that is supported ecologically, anatomically, morphologically, genetically, and geographically. The concept in general seems to be going out of vogue as we define it so strictly that it’s no longer really applicable. Perhaps the same argument could be made for Linnaean taxonomy in general though…

But, as for the original question, I’m sure there’s some way to figure out how many don’t have a nominate species. I’m not sure how you would get it or what you would do with it, but I bet someone can figure out something clever. And yes, the nominate subspecies should be present if other subspecies are also present.

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I think sometimes it is a matter of being part of a bigger problem. For instance, two of the examples you gave above, Acer monspessulanum and Aethusa cynapium, include infraspecific taxa that are not recognized by POWO. If I was trying to “fix” them, then the question would become “Should I actually add a new subspecies/variety, or should I instead be swapping these other varieties into some other taxon, as we don’t need to recognize them?” It is more complicated, as it then requires a community discussion, and since plants are not my area, at that point I would probably usually drop it and move on to something else.

One of the other issues with these was that people gave the nominate species the same common name as the species level ID and then a bunch of things were accidentally being identified to subspecies. So, I feel like the subspecies all need different common names than the species level identification (or no common name). But that may be a bit off topic here. (I personally think subspecies are way overused but at least they give the splitters a way to divide out minimally different variants in a way the rest of us can ignore them :). )


One wrinkle with this, as demonstrated by Acer monspessulanum, is creating multiple nominate intraspecific names.

Under the taxonomy currently shown for this species there is A. monspessulanum ssp. cinerascens and A. monspessulanum var. ibericum. This means that technically the names A. monspessulanum ssp. monspessulanum and A. monspessulanum var. monspessulanum do exist.

I’m not sure there’s a great way for iNat to deal with this. While it is meaningful to distinguish among different subspecies, or among different varieties, it’s not really meaningful for a user to distinguish an observation as being either A. m. ssp. monspessulam or A. m. var. monspessulanum.

A possible fix for this would be a question box that pops up, like when someone makes an identification at a higher rank than has already been identified:

“Do you mean to identify this observation of [common name] at the subspecies/variety level?
Yes, I am sure this is Genus species ssp. species.
I don’t know about subspecies, but I am sure this is Genus species.”

I think that at first it is necessary to start filling the missing nominate subspecies. I know that it could be a hard task since the extent of the lacking nominate subspecies is currently unknown. Just as a temporary countermeasure it would be useful to remind curators to take care to verify if nominate subspecies exist as far as the taxa they are curating are concerned.
On the other hand, I do not know if there is a practical way to make a global survey on the world checklist.

I guess the question I would ask is for what end purpose? The site is not and makes no claims to be a taxonomic reference. If they are not needed for identifications, is doing this any more important than filling in missing species, genera etc.

Is a missing subspecies a bigger issue than an incomplete genus missing 30 of its members (or hundreds in some cases).


Agreed, iNat should not be considered a primary source for taxonomy. But, I know I use it to see what scientific names are currently in use, especially for those groups of organisms I’m less familiar with. Even among taxa that I am familiar with, I’ve seen taxonomic revisions used on iNat that I was unaware of and which prompted me to go look for the original source of the revision in the primary literature.

Because when the nominate subspecies is lacking a user and/or an identifier cannot provide a fully precise identification. So, a percentage of knowledge would be lost.
Whoever does not “like” subspecies or, in particular, nominate subspecies still will be able not to specify the intraspecific rank. (the greater includes the less)

Of course genera that are missing species are a far bigger issue.

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Welcome to the Forum, and good point! There are definitely other cases in the iNat taxonomy (in plants) where more than one infraspecific rank is in use. This is generally either because some of the names are only valid at one rank, or they are valid at either rank and a curator just hasn’t gone through and made all the ranks consistent. This can be the case both in iNat, and sometimes in Plants of the World Online (POWO) too – our default taxonomic framework. (Side note: curators can edit the rank of a taxon, so no need to create a new one to change between subspecies and variety, etc., if the taxonomic concept is otherwise identical. Just need to verify validity at the new rank.)

I think the solution to these situations is straightforward – when an autonym doesn’t exist in iNat, and multiple infraspecific ranks are in use, just make one autonym using the highest infraspecific rank (likely subspecies). OR… if POWO is using a single rank, adopt that rank and bring iNat into alignment.

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