Make observations with a species complex level community ID automatically become Research Grade

Species complexes are by definition (1, 2) situations where it’s generally impossible to identify organisms to species with photographs, or even with specimens due to taxonomic ambiguity. As a result, nearly every complex level observation could reasonably be marked in the DQA that the community ID cannot be improved.

Despite this, it’s fairly common for organisms in one of these complexes to be identified to species. I think this is a mix of observers not knowing about the existence of the complex, desire for species-level identification, and desire for Research Grade status. The results can be seen for example with the Narceus americanus complex where there is no known method for separating the two species (if they’re even separate species) yet there are hundreds of observations RG at species level, and the issue is just too large and persistent for identifiers to keep up with (the other fix would be regularly merging the two species back into the complex to automatically fix the observations, which has already been done once…).

Other than completely redoing the Research Grade system, I think the best solution would be to change the automatically-Research-Grade-level from species to species complex. It would save identifiers time and energy and more accurately reflect the nuanced taxonomy of these situations, perhaps even educating observers. In special situations where the organism is identifiable to species, it could still be improved, just like RG species can be identified to subspecies.

Originally suggested here: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/troubleshooting-species-complexes/13252/20

There are complexes where the difficulty in distinguishing the species is conditional It’s tough in one region and not in another, for one life stage but not for another, when only a single photo view is commonly given but not when several photos or an audio file are included, etc. These seem to be best handled as-is, leaving it to identifiers to decide if a Complex ID has species ID potential. Raising the default RG rank from species to Complex may unduly and prematurely remove ID attention from these cases.

These are cases that may be unlike the Narceus case, which may benefit from the default RG rank being raised to Complex. I’m concerned if the help in Narceus-like cases would really outweigh the lost ID attention that the other cases need and currently receive. Perhaps an option on each complex taxon could be added and used instead to raise the RG rank to complex only for the complexes that really need that kind of assistance.

In that particular Narceus americanus complex, didn’t we use to have a single species taxon (one of the two species in that complex) playing double-duty as a complex years ago, with at least the English common name referring to the complex even though the rank and name were a species? My memory may be fuzzy on this.

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Yes! It’s look good.

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Thanks, I wondered if this would be an issue.
In your experience how much is the species complex level used as an intermediary between identifiers with different levels of expertise? Like where one identifier would put an obs to complex, and then later another identifier would come and refine it to species.

For example in Ontario, Hyla versicolor is the only member of the Grey Treefrog complex that occurs, so a theoretical observation would always move from some higher level taxon (i.e. genus, family, order, etc.) straight to species level and would never be identified using the species complex. Whereas I assume in nearby states where both species occur, people would identify to complex level knowing that the observation can’t go any further.
In situations where they’re identifiable from the evidence (like recordings, I’m not sure if that’s the case with this example) within the overlap zone, there could be issues like you described unless identifiers intentionally identify only to genus level for potentially identifiable observations. I already do this sometimes for monotypic genera where I think the observation is of that species, but am unconfident enough that I don’t want it going to RG from a “gratitude agree” (e.g. my initial ID here).

We discussed this request and won’t be moving forward with it.

As noted, voting “No” for “Based on the evidence, can the Community Taxon still be confirmed or improved?” will make the observation research grade if there’s a community taxon at the species complex level.

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