Problems with taxon inactivation

Today, I logged in to find a couple of species inactivated. E. longipedunculata and E. blepharadena are two distinctive new species that were added this year and have not yet been added to any of the major databases yet. If I remember correctly, this is not the first time something like this has happened. Having to reactivate the names isn’t too much of an issue if I know they are deactivated, but there are a couple of things that this brings up.

  1. I would prefer to be notified if this happens again to a name that I have curated so that there is a chance to discuss the issue. Whether this is an iNaturalist notification or a notification from the curator that wants to deactivate it doesn’t really matter to me.

  2. It would have been much better if this taxon were flagged as that would have allowed a place to discuss the validity of the name in question.

  3. I could not find who deactivated it. This is problematic for several reasons. I had to spend quite a bit of time doing a sanity check to make sure that I didn’t deactivate it for some reason. This is a time-consuming task that requires delving back into the literature to make sure that I agree that the name is legitimate. Second, it means that if someone repeatedly inactivates a taxon, there is no way to identify them and discuss the issue.

  4. Finally, if someone wants to make taxonomic changes to Euphorbia sect. Anisophyllum, I would appreciate being tagged if you can think to do so in the moment. It took a lot of time to get all the species up on iNaturalist to section and much of it came from specialized resources. I’m happy about the fact that iNaturalist is more up to date than the big databases and don’t want to lose information.

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Maybe this is a case that would justify locking the taxon and making you the taxon curator (plus maybe a designated backup curator)?

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This is probably because you reactivated it too quickly. If you wait, you could have gone into the edit taxon page, and at the bottom of the page, it would have said who had last updated the taxon.

there are enough Euphorbia specialists on iNat at this point that it’s a viable option and would not cause bottlenecking. I could help (once my personal life gets back to normal…)

A couple of hints for anyone who adds taxa: If you just add bare names to frameworked taxa, and they don’t show up in our approved source databases, in particular, in POWO, Molluscabase, Millbase, etc., this is likely to happen.
Please add the taxon framework relationship (in these cases, deviations) so that the source is visible to anyone who clicks on Taxonomy. It’s way less likely to get flagged for removal that way. In addition, if the Status is known, add that, along with any synonyms. Taxa with no observations, no framework relationship and no status can look a lot like they were just added in a dump from EOL or COL, and if they’re not available to verify in iNat’s source databases, they’re more likely to get inactivated, especially by newer curators who are still learning.

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My apologies for the delay in response, it’s been a busy week!

I would be in favor of this for Euphorbia sect. Anisophyllum. I wouldn’t want to lock any broader than that group, though. My expertise of other groups gets pretty thin and I don’t think the other Euphorbia experts are active enough for them to want to do too much curation.

Good to know. Is there any way to distinguish if a name is “added in a dump from EOL or COL” or added by a user? Seems like that’s an important distinction for anyone curating.

Check the source; if it’s eol.org or catalogueoflife.org, then it’s presumably imported.

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Unfortunately, you have to click on “Edit taxon” to find out. And not all new curators know that.

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On a different note, I have some other issues/warnings regarding inactivating taxa:

  • When inactivating taxa with no observations, make sure to check here for casual observations and IDs that don’t show up on the taxon home page (replace taxon_ID= with the taxon number in question):
    https://www.inaturalist.org/identifications?taxon_id=324543
  • Otherwise, inactivating taxa leaves observations in limbo. I don’t think this should really ever be done if there are observations/IDs and another ID won’t suffice (sometimes you can inactivate a name like “Plant” and add the proper ID, which overrides the inactive one).
  • In the case of extinct taxa, I still think we should try to graft taxa so long as they are in line with curator guidelines. I would say all of the extinct vertebrates do not follow these guidelines, in which case they could be inactivated, but I think that another ID should be added (i.e. Vertebrata) so the observations aren’t left in limbo.
  • Is having ungrafted taxa with observations or observations with inactivated taxa worse? I think the latter, but I’m open to other suggestions.

Here are all the “species” of observations without IDs (from this thread):

  • Some are ungrafted taxa in locked groups that regular curators can’t fix.
  • Some are bugs and I’m not sure why they show up, but inactivating and deactivating them fixes the problem.
  • Some are taxa that have been inactivated, mostly because they’re extinct.
  • I don’t think anything should be there, but I want to hear what other curators think.
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It seems to have happened again. This time I could not even find the names as inactivated taxa so I can only assume the were deleted entirely this time. I even added the source in hopes that someone would see it and think twice. This is really frustrating as @trh_blue and I finished adding in all the names from Euphorbia PBI (the most reliable Euphorbia taxonomy source I know of) just last year (at least I think it was last year). It wouldn’t surprise me if some of that work has been undone. I’m not sure how easy it will be to find the areas where things have been changed.

@jdmore How do you go about locking the taxon? Also, can I give other Euphorbia experts who are curators permission to edit the taxonomy if it is locked? I really don’t want to end up as the only gate keeper to getting the taxonomy changed.

Ultimately, it would be much better if a system could be added where a curator clicks a button to flag for inactivation or deletion in 48 hours if no one has commented on the flag. At the moment the taxon is flagged, a notification will be sent to the person who created the taxon giving them a chance to comment and say why the taxon should not be deleted or inactivated. That way, I would at least be communicating with someone and not just wondering who deleted the taxon I just added. Something like that would also facilitate curator training.

At this rate, I’m tempted to just flag the taxon with the label “please do not delete this taxon”!

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Locking a taxon does not mean other curators can not edit it. It blocks additions under it from being added via the external names search.

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Locked in the sense that it be covered by a taxon framework and only be edited by curators of that taxon. Not sure what a better word would be but, yes, “locked” has other meanings.

Yes, that’s what I meant, sorry for the imprecise terminology. @nathantaylor I’m not sure what the expected process is to make this happen. If I were in that position, I would start by messaging @loarie.

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Perhaps call it restricted (to these curators) rather than locked?