Should curators have a critical point of view when changing iNat taxonomy?

Can confirm that it will suggest complexes if there are enough observations IDed to it.

When I search Hygrocybe conica, the first suggestion is the complex, not the species. Probably because its well known that there are several cryptic species hiding, and enough people have bumped H. conica species up to complex.

I’ve also seen this happen for Narceus americanus, and Allium tricoccum

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The CV is suggesting it or it’s available in the ID box when you type the name? Important distinction.

Ahhhhh fair point

Tried it again.

Interesting that it pulls up as the top choice if you type it in, but not as the top choice in the suggestion box.

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The developers have control over what taxon levels the CV suggests; I don’t think complex or any other rank between genus and species is suggested. I know it can suggest family and other higher levels, but I don’t often see it say “We’re pretty sure this is in the family:” separate from the other top suggestions like that from what I can recall (if ever?). I wish it did so more.


It happens a lot for mushrooms, tbh.

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The term is borrowed from the theory of programming languages:

AFAIK, the iNat software algorithm does not make suggestions at the rank of species complex or subspecies, so neither qualifies as a first-class taxon. A species complex of closely related species tends to gravitate towards a species-level ID since the software favors species. OTOH, subspecies tend to be ignored. If given a choice, subspecies are preferable since at least the ID is not wrong.

CV suggested ‘Complex Sarcophaga carnaria’ (I know this due to the massive amount of mis-IDs :wink:) - but this taxon has been merged and I am currently not aware of another example

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… and whenever a taxon gets split (e.g. between geographically-distant lookalikes), CV can suggest the “wrong” taxon as a result.

perhaps not but i don’t see the whole thing going well for vascular plants otherwise. I guess we will find out since taxonomists are insistent on pushing the issue to the point of absurdity. It honestly seems to come down to some odd posturing in some cases, like “i can figure this microspecies out, why can’t YOU?” Well yes, i can too, if i take time away from other things that honestly are much more important like… actually monitoring and conserving species and ecosystems.

It’s more than annoying. It’s actively harmful to conservation. Maybe people decide the upsides outweigh the downsides, if that’s what people come to that’s fine. But pretending the damage isn’t there isn’t helpful at all.

Well, yes, the quality of data is declining due to the change, but it’s not because iNaturalist users are doing something wrong, it’s because the change isnt workable. Instead of forcing things into the species complexes, which are better than nothing but not ideal, we could already use the existing taxonomy system and leave these entities as subspecies. it completely solves all of the problems here. All of them. But taxonomists aren’t open to it and i don’t know why. I guess they just don’t want to use subspecies? It kind of breaks my brain. Why is this group allowed to do active damage without a good reason? or if there is a good reason why haven’t they been able to explain it beyond their echo chamber? I know some of the taxonomists here don’t believe me, but the changes are usually met by eye rolls if not outright contempt amongst most applied ecologists and citizen scientists. I’m actually a moderate compared to what a lot of people tell me…but the forum and the echo chamber that is curation on iNat isn’t able to see that.


I just listened to this podcast episode featuring someone who was involved with the recent change to lump Cordilleran and Pacific-slope Flycatchers back together into Western Flycatcher. A couple other species like this (Northwestern Crow and Thayer’s Gull) have been lumped recently as well. These are probably examples where glaciation split the populations and they diverged for a while but are now mixing again. Also examples of clines where individuals on either edge of the range are obviously different (and maybe they wouldn’t even interbreed) but those in between are more or less intermediate. The Western Flycatcher lump was pretty popular and had lots of evidence for it, but the podcast guest emphasized a couple times that taxonomy is for humans; it doesn’t help anyone to draw species lines where nobody can use them.

I think bird taxonomy benefits here both because there’s lots of mixing between academic and hobby study of birds, and because birds communicate similarly to us (primarily by vision and hearing, in wavelengths that we can perceive well) so their speciation is generally practically intuitive. With other “less relatable” taxa I guess it’s easier to end up with academic researchers drawing species lines that are practical and meaningful for them but make less sense at a macro level where people in the field are working. I think it’s hard to say either is “wrong”… they’re both drawing boundaries that are useful to humans, but in different contexts.


Yes, they are pure evil :rofl::rofl::rofl::rofl::rofl:

haha no. But it doesn’t work well to let one group of extremists control everything, in any context. I’m sure if all the curators were radical lumpers that would cause problems too.

I totally agree with this.

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I’m afraid that’s not true with the split compromising at least 5 species. As with most things in nature it is a much more complicated situation with a number of new taxa to be described as you can see in FSUS

What worries me more about these comments and similar ones is that this suggests in inherent inertia in iNat from the moment of conception. In other words; if the initial taxonomy in iNat when it started would have been 5 species of Arisaema, everyone would have followed that and made the effort to correctly identify their observations but now that we go from 1 species with 3 subspecies to 5 species (or more), this is seen as terrible imposition. This feels very strange to me as it suggests it will entrench the 2008 taxonomy from when iNat started as there is much push-back against change. In the longer term this will start looking very odd, especially to the younger generations.


younger people may be stuck with the new splitter taxonomy, but that doesn’t mean it is a good thing, just that they never knew a more functional taxonomy. It’s kind of like climate change, just because the younger generation is used to the new climate doesn’t mean it is better.

It is an imposition and i actually think we should entrench the 2008 taxonomy, though i know others don’t agree.

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Exactly, if someone hadn’t lumped them in the first place, they wouldn’t have had to have been split back out. I just took a look at the publication dates of the 5 species in question and all were published over 100 years ago.

Some older people may be trying to hang on to lumper taxonomy from the last half century, but that doesn’t mean it is a good thing, just that they never knew a more functional taxonomy.

Sorry, I can’t help but laugh at lumpers complaining about splitters. From what I’ve seen, the majority of splits are just fixing the damage done by lumps from the past 50 years or so, though some are older lumps. I often go back to the older pre-lump treatments as it makes things so much clearer in many cases. Of course, things often just aren’t clear. In defense of lumps, while many lumps made absolutely terrible messes that will take a long time to clean up, many clearly made sense as well and rectified splits that made no or little sense.

The taxonomy should follow the evidence. As we are finally getting to the point where we can resolve at least some of these questions, there is going to be a lot of unlumpings and a lot new taxa described. As there is so little funding for this work, which there is a ridiculous amount to do, and as the technology is just not there yet in some cases, I suspect there will still be a constant stream of changes over the next century or more, which is also how long it may take POWO to get everything up to date, at least according to them.

The bottom line is that things are changing and iNat shouldn’t hold back from those changes. That said, iNat definitely should be cautious about adopting major changes that may make messes, whether they be splits or lumps. I’d personally be more concerned about lumps as those are a lot harder to recover from. Regarding blue_celery’s three “virtuous” practices, I would add one more. Ideally, there should be publicly available resources that will help iNat user with identification or documents pointing in the direction of where such resources are available. I made a bunch of changes on iNat recently in the genus I studied for my PhD but I made sure that there was a freely available ID guide online before I did so, which is linked to and available from multiple websites one of which is here.


Yes but we all know this isn’t the real issue. The ‘evidence’ is that taxonomy is incredibly complex, species intergrade and hybridize, and genetically distinct populations have no morphological differences sometimes. The evidence can make family trees for individual organisms but there’s no clear piece of ‘evidence’ that says things like ‘cryptic species should be at species level instead of subspecies’. In fact it may be the case that an ancestry based taxonomy doesn’t even always work for field ecology because there are too many cryptic species and evolutionary convergence is a very strong force (maybe even on genes themselves?) so sometimes we don’t really know ancestry.

All my debating aside all i am really asking for as a taxonomy that works for applied field ecology including people who aren’t specialists in one genus. That means more reliance on subspecies ranks for cryptic or very similar taxonomic entities. I guess my counter question is what is the opposition to it? It isn’t in any way a comment on your research in particular and i don’t know how splitty you are anyway, but i guess i have to ask, since you do this type of work, why push to species level when subspecies works so well for these entities and avoids so many problems? Is there any reason other than the ‘prestige’ of finding a ‘new species’ or the weird nature of some laws that give species more protection?

iNat definitely is more into taxonomic revisionism than most other entities i know of. I recognize my ‘keep taxonomy at 2015’ proposal or whatever may be viewed as too far the other direction. But i don’t ever expect that will get accepted. I just want some middle ground and some actual recognition that the current setup doesn’t work for applied ecology, instead of some people (not you) full on attacking my credentials for disagreeing on how a taxonomic system should work. I kinda laugh when people say iNat is a friendly internet because some of the so called experts on here don’t act any better than a normal Twitter troll unless you immediately agree with them at all times.


Thinking about this further, my impression is that for field identification for practical purposes we basically need to apply a phenetic/phenotypic species concept, which is looking at the organisms from our perspective. Whereas taxonomists try to figure out how the organisms engage with each other from their own perspective, or how their genes relate to each other, so they use more biological/phylogenetic/recognition species concepts. When I search up “phenetic species concept” the results suggest that that kind of taxonomy is seen as outdated and unrealistic.

It seems like fundamentally different approaches to taxonomy which happen to mostly align for large charismatic taxa, but end up diverging more for the majority of taxa that are more obscure.

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I honestly do agree that subspecies should be used more and that’s not even just in regards to current splitting - so I’ve been helping do sequence validation for a group that’s doing some fungi sequencing work, right? There are definitely species that have been described as different for a long time but there has been confusion for years over whether or not they’re the same species - and looking at the gene region usually used for DNA barcoding does absolutely jack to differentiate because they’re so close.

Should they have ever been split in the first place? Were early mycologists just super gung-ho about describing new species in the US (Honestly I believe so yes, and I forsee some lumping happening as more type specimens in herbariums get sequenced.)

Incidentally, I’ve also run into one that was initially described as a separate species than the european taxa in like… the sixties, lumped in the eighties, and whoops when you test them they are quite different, so the differences the original describer noticed are probably valid.

I just want clarity, you know? Clarity and discovery of the truth without ego or prestige-chasing getting in the way.


yes this makes sense. And i agree there are for sure some awful, nonsensical lumps too. It isn’t that lumping is always better, it’s just that splitting can also be harmful especially when at the species level rather than subspecies. And i know it’s taxonomic hearsey, but i don’t think the main species classification system we use for applied ecology should, or even can, be fully genetic based and monophylletic. I don’t think it’s even really possible.

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