IDing "Needs ID" observations to species when they're already IDed to subspecies - is it ok?

Pretty much as the title says. If there’s an observation with the “Needs ID” status that is already IDed to subspecies level, is it ok to ID it to species level, so it becomes “Research Grade”?

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Yep! This is definitely helpful. If you’re only comfortable IDing a given observation to species that’s fine, but you can also confirm subspecies if you are good with that level. There have been lots of discussions about the benefits or drawbacks of subspecies ID’s, but I don’t think they really matter for this. If IDers want to go through and add subspecies level IDs to observations that are already RG at the species level, that’s easy for them to do.


Yes. It’s fine. One caution: when you “save” your ID, a box will come up, and you have to choose.

If you agree with the species and don’t know if the subspecies is correct or not, choose the green button (the top one).

If you agree with the species but think the subspecies is wrong, choose the lower, orange or yellow button.


Better ask observer, if there’s a ssp id already I don’t want to see species id after it in most cases. Or add a comment about how they can mark it “as good as can be > no”.

This box doesn’t show up in this case.

You mean after adding the ID, so the observation becomes “Needs ID” again?

It’s a community consensus and adding a non-disagreeing ID that you have the skill to make strengthens and protects that consensus, even if is not the most specific possible ID. If you see a butterfly already ID’d to subspecies and you add a non-disagreeing ID to ‘Animals’ that would be mostly wasting your own time and the notification might mildly annoy some people but isn’t really doing any particular harm.


Yes, so there’s an opportunity to get more ids if needed!

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But then the added ID to make the observation RG loses its whole point. I might as well not add the ID at all.

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No, you tell the observer they can vote it or that you voted it, observer decides if they need RG on sp or not, how is it pointless when it’s not?

On the other hand, if the observer wants RG at the species level, the observer could put in a species ID in the first place, and after getting RG add the subspecies ID and tick the box to put it back in Needs ID themselves. So when I see a subspecies ID now, I just assume the observer does not want a species-level RG and I just skip the observation.

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One of the continuing issues with ID to subspecies is that many subspecies cannot be identified based on a photo. Any claim that cannot be supported by the information in a photo becomes an assumption rather than a demonstrable fact. There is currently a fad in birding to ID birds to subspecies based on location rather than field marks. This is problematic for a couple reasons.

  1. birds can fly, they migrate, they disperse, wander. This is the very reason why twitchers twitch: to see birds outside their normal range. The assumption that species wander, but subspecies don’t is flawed.
  2. taxonomy is in a state of change and many subspecific claims that were made based on perceived physical traits are being called into question, Thayer’s Gull and Northwestern Crow being two recent examples. Northwestern Crow (which at last check was still an option on iNaturalist) isn’t even considered a subspecies any more. It’s the end of South to North cline.

So, if you can’t look at the photo and ID it to subspecies based on the evidence in the photo or rigorous biogeographical evidence regarding known geographical isolation, then you should actually avoid ID’ing to subspecies. And it is never wrong to know your limits in what you know and don’t know and stop at the line.


My response is along the lines of “Yes, but!” I work mostly with plants. Native plants usually don’t move around much. I’ll happily ID them to species, sometimes to subspecies, using range. I think it is important to ID to subspecies when we can because subspecies are often incipient species and taxonomists often waver on how to classify them. One year they’re called subspecies, ten years later they’re called species, and round and round they go. If they’re ID’d to subspecies when that’s the option, keeping up with the circling is easy.


I kind of thought I was covering myself with this qualifier. Certainly, many (perhaps most) plant species and many animals species that don’t get around much and can be safely ID’d to subspecies by people who are familiar with the current literature and stuff. However, the average iNaturalist user probably doesn’t follow these sorts of things.

For example, I used to feel confident about identifying Ammophila in photos where I could see the leaf blades. Now, I stop at genus, because I can’t rule out hybrids in most photos. I know my limits and I stop on the line.

There is also considerable discontinuity between iNaturalist and other sources regarding ID. One that I find frustrating is Dodecatheon which I iNaturalist insists is in Primula even though the attached Wikipedia page for iNaturalist and Oregon Flora disagree.

Both of these are problems are at the genus and species level. Subspecies, varietals and complexes and polyploids are even screwier.

So, my take is, if you know with some degree of certainty based on current thinking what subspecies we’re dealing with, then yes, it’s value added. If not, don’t go there.

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Yes, you did cover yourself with that qualifier.

As far as I can tell, either we’ve only got Ammophila arenaria in the parts of the Oregon coast I regularly visit* or the alternatives are very, very rare. Fortunately.

  • I don’t get to the NW corner of the state, so can’t say about that area.

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