Species "Complex" shouldn't come up as the first choice to click on, when we intend to choose the species we typed in, not the complex

Countless times, when I am typing in a species name for an ID, and iNaturalist offers its choices to click on, the first name offered by iNaturalist to click on looks like the species name, but is actually the name of a species complex, or the like. I then may click on that without noticing that I clicked on a species complex, or such, when that was not my intention. I may then have to correct the error, or may have the error stand, because I missed it. I would suggest that when we type in a species name for an ID that the first offering to click on should be that species, not the complex the species is in. iNaturalist could make the species complex the second, or later choice offered to click on, after the species name we typed in.


I would disagree. When typing the genus, all the species come after the genus. Do you think that should change?

Often when adding IDs in a complex, species IDs aren’t possible. I’ve had to correct a lot of M. edulis s.s. to M. edulis s.l. and it would not make it more helpful for me at least to have M. edulis s.s. always show up first.

The IDs seem pretty clearly differentiated to me with the word complex, but if you are repeatedly selecting the wrong one, maybe change the photos to be more different.

But I think the one that is first is the one with more observations (which is almost always the higher rank)?


I do agree with this but in another kind of situation : it’s annoying when making a checklist for a place with a list and iNaturalist chooses the complex instead of the species. You then need to manually correct all of those, and it can take a lot of time.


I would disagree. Too many users still click on the first name that comes up among the proposals without thinking or knowing that it is not always possible to identify to species. The first proposal of a complex at least allows one to think about it or just not make a mistake.


The annoying thing about the “complexes” is that if you explore your observations for a genus the complexes frequently will not show up on the species tab. So while for the plume moth Hellinsia I have 15 observations, it only tallies 4 species on the species tab and doesn’t show the “homodactylus complex” which is one of the most common of the species. So I could easily miss H. homodactylus which is no doubt in my area but not separable from the rarer elliottii. The only way to see the complexes is to go into the observations tab and manually search for them. I wish they would show up as a “species” on my species tab because their morphotype is very distinctive even if the species isn’t. The genus Halysidota is another good example but they are harder to miss given the “complex” is the only one in my area.


I agree that “Complex” should be a lower option for selections. If I type the genus and begin to type the epithet I don’t want the prefix of “Complex.”


I have to agree, it would be nice if a complex could come after. I may be biased though as I ID bombus 99.9% of the time on here. I rather often see a bombus fervidus complex ID in the Midwest to Eastern United States. The complex is restricted to where B.californicus and B.fervidus range overlap. which is not the case for 2/3rds of the range. Even when submitting a B.fervidus observation the complex comes up first which confuses the user. IMO

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I agree! I name my photos with the species name and then when I upload them, iNat assigns an ID based on my photo filenames. It defaults to the species complex when there is one. I don’t usually notice this until much later, when someone provides an ID and I review it, or when I am querying my observations and notice “complexes” that I never intended. Such a pain.


Please no, it just causes people to click on the species ID having no idea that there is a complex of species. It’s would be hell of a mess for identifiers on the site.


I agree completely. And even more than with “complexes”, I really wish this were the case with “sections”. With moth IDs, which are mostly what I do, it seems the majority of the “complex” options are just for species groups which, over most of their ranges, only have one species option anyway. The majority of the “complexes” in the moth taxonomy that I see aren’t complexes at all, in the taxonomic sense of being unresolved clusters of cryptic species; they’re just groups/pairs of species that are sometimes hard to differentiate in photos. Like Datana drexelii/major: they’re not a “complex” in any taxonomic sense of the term, but the adults require dissection under a microscope to differentiate (even though larvae are easy to ID), so they’re a “complex” on iNat. Chionodes pereyra and Chionodes petalumensis are in a “complex” together on iNat, but their ranges don’t overlap, so there’s really no case where someone might want to place an observation at the “complex” level. If someone knows enough to type “Chionodes pereyra”, they want the species-level option. I personally find myself changing “section” and “complex” IDs to the one possible species-level ID within the section/complex way more often than I find myself kicking back species-level IDs to the “complex” level.


I am with those who prefer it the way it is. Someone clicking the species when they should click the complex creates errors which take more effort to put right, the opposite mistake just means it needs to be refined.


I disagree as well.

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I think people here may be talking about 2 different situations. One is what suggestions artificial intelligence offers for the ID of the observation. In this case it is first offering the best ID artificial intelligence can offer. Here it may make sense for it to offer the more general ID of a complex first, as it may not be able to confidently offer the species ID. The case I was referring to was when we type in our ID, and we have to click on a choice iNaturalist has in its data base so that iNaturalist will accept our ID, which is the case I was referring to. While I make few observations, I make a lot of ID’s. I want to quickly click on the species name, then go on to any explanatory comments I may make, and then to the next ID. I sometimes see the name I typed in, but don’t notice that iNaturalist had added “Complex” to my name, and I may click on that by mistake.

Multiple times I’ve typed in “Stellaria media” (Common Chickweed), and I see that name come up, when I’m looking to quickly click on S. media so iNaturalist will give the observation the ID I made, but don’t notice that iNaturalist had added “Complex” to that ID. When I first saw that there were 4 members of the “Stellaria media Complex” it was put in, I looked into them, to see if there was some confusing taxon that I wasn’t considering. I then found, except for one of the 4 species, recorded only once in my area, and one with no petals, which,at least when in bloom, looks different from the ones with petals, the other species had never been recorded in my area.

On some of these comments of people who disagree, it almost sounds like people are saying, “No, odds are you can’t recognize that species from a photo on iNaturalist, you probably should choose the species complex your choice is in.” There are multiple species of mussels that look pretty much the same, so you should choose the complex. I don’t want to be told I shouldn’t make the species ID I am trying to make.

I also find some other people have made the same mistake when making the ID for their observation. Having one ID that was intended as a species ID, but ended up as a “complex” ID also prevents that ID from going “Research Grade”, until 2 people enter the full species ID.


I’ve noticed it’s not just that the “complex” option appears first in the dropdown list. iNat also changes the specific name to the complex when doing a batch upload. That is REALLY annoying. I can specifically enter a species name, and it defaults to the complex, which I then have to go back and change manually. If I meant “complex”, I would have typed in “complex”. Computers should never override specific human commands.

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Complex + right sp = sp needs ID. + sp = RG. That is easy

But wrong sp + complex = Needs 5 IDs to overturn one wrong with a subsequent hard disagreement. That is, tiresome!


I can’t offer any solutions to the problems noted in this thread but I would like to clarify something that may be overlooked. I’ll use an example from earlier in the thread: the common chickweed and the common chickweed complex have exactly the same name. Note the URLs of their respective taxon pages:

Evidently the two taxa share the name “Stellaria media”. The word “complex” is not part of the name (although it is part of the latter’s display name).

Since the name “Stellaria media” is not unique, the system does what it does. It can’t read your mind.

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I’ve run into similar problems. Sometimes, because of the way that particular search works on iNat, you end up with some very weird ID’s – I’ve learned that it’s always worth a double-check before finalizing the upload.

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I think the same arguments apply in both situations. You may know that species ID is ok, but most people won’t. We need iNat to be designed with non-experts in mind, otherwise it makes far more work for the experts. It is better for a few experts to accidentally ID their observation too broadly, than for a lot of non-experts to ID their obs too specifically.

In this case iNat is not ‘adding’ complex to your ID, you are just selecting the complex instead of the species of the same name from the drop down.

As for regionality; not all members of a complex occur in all regions, but for most complexes there are large regions where multiple species occur. The algorithm cannot be expected to know where is which and behave differently in each.

The current set up expects those of us who know the taxa well to select the correct thing from the drop down, (I think that’s reasonable); it doesn’t expect the larger number of non-experts to know there’s a complex and look for it further down before clicking an over-specific ID that then takes 3 experts to overrule. I think that’s the right way round.


‘Complex’ is the rank, not part of the taxon name. I have this with Platycheirus albimanus a lot, and it’s a bit irritating because I usually know the species, and have to replace the ‘Complex’ Platycheirus albimanus’ with ‘Species’ Platycheirus albimanus. Which I agree is annoying, but again I think this is the right way round: where a filename contains a taxon name that is identical between ranks that have an ancestor-descendant relationship, iNat selects the broader taxon to be conservative. (When the name is shared between taxa that are not in an ancestor-descendant relationship it leaves the name blank). This way round may irritate us when we know the taxa we are dealing with, but overall the result is a smaller number of more-easily-corrected errors.

As someone who has spent a lot of time fixing misidentified complex observations, I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree here. There’s a lot of confusion surrounding complexes even with them being the first on the list. I think it would be better to not do anything that could potentially worsen the issue.

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