Open discussion for managing taxon rank at order or above

curators can’t edit taxa above the order level. Changes toward the root of the tree create a ton of backend work that impacts site performance, so we stopped allowing it in July 2016. Also, these parts of the tree are pretty stable, so there’s not much need to alter them. If you think these kinds of changes are needed, contact help@inaturalist.org. – Curator Guide

I think this is a fair and understandable guideline that does not need amendment, and it is true that for a lot of taxonomic groups, orders and other higher-ranking taxon levels (hereafter just “orders”) are pretty stable.

However…

There have been a number of occasions where I have wanted to manage an order but cannot. These were not situations with the most well-defined orders that have a lot of subordinate taxa and observations attached to them - such as those among vertebrates or dicots. The only situations I have experienced issues were with smaller/neglected orders in the following scenarios:

  1. I’m trying to revise a neglected portion of our tree (such as with Bacteria or certain Crustaceans) that lack many observations. I created an order, and only realize after the fact that I made a spelling mistake/grafted it to the wrong parent/gave the wrong rank designation (e.g. it was suppose to be a family, not an order), and I have no way of fixing it.

  2. There is an extinct high-ranking taxon (such as Acreodi) I want to move for management purposes (which, again, have almost no observations), but cannot.

  3. There is an active, ungrafted taxon in our database at the rank of order (or higher) that has a valid synonym in our database. I at the very least want to draft a Taxon Change that would resolve the matter, but orders cannot even be drafted into Taxon Changes (again, not even committed - just incorporated into a draft).

  4. I just want to view the Taxon Form of an order (because its extinct and needs that conservation status, or the Wikipedia article is inadequate, etc), but am denied from just viewing the page.

I am curious to know - especially from staff (@tiwane) - if there is any way that these recurring problems could be mitigated or addressed without having to contact help@inaturalist.org every time.

Potential solutions I could think of (without any knowledge of their feasibility) include:

  1. Having some sort of internal means of “counting” observations associated with ranks at order or higher so that if an order has less than, say, 5,000 observations, it can still be moved, but are locked down if that threshold is passed.

  2. Enable some sort of way to allow any taxon with an extinct conservation status to be moved.

  3. Allow orders and higher-ranks to at least be drafted into Taxon Changes - just make it so that only staff can commit them (which is the case with a lot of complete Frameworked branches anyways).

  4. Allow us to view the Taxon Form for an order or higher-rank and allow us to edit any component of it except for the parent it is under (e.g. Conservation Status, Wikipedia Article, cited source, whether its active, etc.), which, again, is a restriction already placed for all taxa under a completed Framework branch.

  5. I just deal with it :/ The potential consequences from opening up higher-ranks again out way any positives, or the solutions just can’t be implemented.

I bring this up here (as oppose to Bug Reports or Feature Request) because: (a) this is something specific to Curators and bringing it would probably get lost in a sea of other posts; (b) it’s a multi-faceted issue; (c) I am curious to know what my fellow curators think. I’m not even sure others feel like these are problems at all.

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I don’t work at those ranks, but those do sound like some scenarios that could use some thought. For this one

I’m guessing one can’t even edit the ungrafted taxon (access its Taxon Form) to set it to inactive? Otherwise, my workflow for that situation would be to just inactivate the ungrafted taxon, and add its scientific name as a synonym to the active taxon. Which is probably also not possible at Order and above?

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Nope, no form of editing can be done there by regular curators.

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I wonder if it would be possible to stop importing taxa above the rank of family from external databases. We seem to periodically import duplicates of higher-level taxa that can’t be fixed except by staff (e.g., we have two Basidiomycota right now). Orphaned families would have to be flagged for curation by staff, but that would probably be no slower than what happens now (waiting for staff to properly graft an order, etc.) and would eliminate the need for merging taxa, plus we would probably not import a bunch of extinct high-level taxa.

Maybe we could assemble a list here of missing classes, orders, etc. when a good reference source exists (like AlgaeBase and Index Fungorum) so staff could set them up as a batch rather than having to deal with them piecemeal.

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