Issues with species complexes

I have noted some issues with species complexes, which I describe below. Some examples of species complexes to test this behaviour:

  • Complex Dasysyrphus intrudens
  • Complex Hyla versicolor
  • Complex Pantherophis alleghaniensis
  • Complex Laphria canis

ISSUE #1: Species complexes do not come up if you search for them from the search box. If you type in the species that the complex is named after, the species complex does come up, but not if you type in the full name of the complex. For example, “Complex Dasysyrphus intrudens” will come up if you do a search for “Dasysyrphus intrudens”, but not if you search for “Complex Dasysyrphus intrudens”.

ISSUE #2: Species complexes do not come up as a suggestion if you start typing in the name in the “Suggest an Identification” box. If you start typing in “Dasysyrphus intrudens”, then "“Dasysyrphus intrudens” will come up as a suggestion, but not “Complex Dasysyrphus intrudens”. If you start typing in “Complex Dasysyrphus intrudens”, then no suggestions come up.

Even if Issue #2 is corrected, it is still going to create problems. It seems unlikely that anyone would start typing in “Complex Dasysyrphus intrudens” for a suggested ID, unless they already know that was what the taxon was called on iNaturalist. People will start by typing in the species name “Dasysyrphus intrudens”, either because they do not know that a species complex designation is available or desirable, or because they are thinking about a much more natural wording of “Dasysyrphus intrudens complex” or the “Dasysyrphus intrudens species complex”. So, it seems like the species complex taxa should be renamed to have “complex” at the end of the name. The current naming strategy also prevents the species complexes from being alphabetized properly in the taxonomy lists.

If the species that the species complex is named after is left as a valid taxon, then observations can end up getting randomly identified as either the species complex or the original species, depending on whether or not the original identifier was aware of the existence of the species complex taxon. It is very undesirable to have the same taxon being recorded under two different names, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to avoid this other than having someone continually monitoring each taxa and manually correcting it. Correcting the issues described above will help with this problem, because at least the species complex taxon won’t be hidden. But it seems like there should be some flag on the original species name, so that potential identifiers know that they should stay at the species complex level, unless the necessary evidence is available to go to the species level.


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In this case, I believe it’s because “Complex” is not actually part of the name - iNaturalist just adds “Complex” to the name when displaying it. Same thing happens for other taxonomic levels, eg:

I can replicate for Dasysyrphus intrudens, but not for the other three complexes you listed, they come up fine.

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That explanation for Issue #1 makes sense, but it still sounds like something that should be corrected. That means that both the species complex and the original species have exactly the same name, which seems like a good way to create issues. And that the taxon name that is displayed isn’t actually the taxon name, which seems like another way to create confusion. Wouldn’t it be a lot more straightforward to give the species complex a unique name, like “Dasysyrphus intrudens complex”, and then display that name as the taxon name?

I get the same result as you for Issue #2. I must not have tested that issue with all the examples. Odd that it happens for some, and not others.

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I think I figured out the cause of this issue. On the taxon page for the Dasysyrphus intrudens species complex, although the title of the page was “Dasysyrphus intrudens”, if I went to “Edit taxon” under the Curation options, under the names section it was listed as “intrudens” instead of “Dasysyrphus intrudens”. I added the genus name, and it now comes up as a suggestion when typing it in.

It does seem odd that the scientific name under the “Names” section can be made to disagree with the name of the taxon page, and the the suggestions would then ignore the actual taxon name.

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