Species ID errors in difficult taxa?

Depending on what reference material observers are using, they might only think that Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is their only option. I know I misidentified it down to species before I knew better…


I used to think it was the only one as well! So much for the “easy” plants, hah.


Well, not everyone agrees with microspecies concept at all too.


I’m not entirely sure what a microspecies is in this case. I know there’s subspecies (ssp) and variety (var), but I’m not sure if @jasonhernandez74 means something like Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) vs Remarkable Dandelion (Taraxacum insigne)?

I know there are a lot of people just breezing through and clicking “agree”, which is needed and useful, but there are also a lot of people (me included) that do not like subspecies so they try and keep their ID’s to species only. I don’t know why they would push your dandelion to “section” when you have posted all the criteria for your ID, but some people don’t bother to look at comments or even notice if there are multiple photos of the organism

Dandelion reproduction is a combination of asexual seed set (which produces clones) and sexual seed set, including reproduction involving pollen from a second species that (usually) produces its own seed asexually. As with the European Blackberry Complex, this leads to a confusing pattern of variation. What should be treated as species in this mess? A widespread clone looks like a species. If an individual within it produces some seeds sexually, they may become a new widespread clone – should we call this a new species or a new genetic individual within a more variable species? And what is the origin of this other variant over here, and does that matter? Can variant N hybridize with variant R, if they meet, and does that matter?

Some people prefer to gather the variations into large, variable species (mostly Taraxacum officinale and T. erythrospermum). Others to assign each variation to a different species (a microspecies). That idea seems consistent (though difficult to apply), but are there really 2000 species of dandelions in Europe?

Just to add to the fun, some of the traits used to identify dandelion microspecies (e.g. leaf shape) vary seasonally, so only early season plants are readily identified – to the extent you can say any dandelion species is readily identified.

So, I personally have given up on dandelion “species” ID on iNaturalist. I label them “Taraxacum” and click “No, it can’t be improved” for data quality. Also, I collect early season dandelions in my area to send to a dandelion expert who identifies them to microspecies. I dutifully label them and donate them to the herbarium near me, where curators are amused at best.


I’m not surprised to find dandelions being the subject of discussion again, haha! Yes, those are tricky, and so are a lot of other plants where there are multiple species that look very similar (e.g. Erythronium umbilicatum in my area and E. americanum).

Based on my own experience, in cases like this where there are fairly recent splits and field guides commonly only list one species and ignore the existence of the others there will be lots of errors in the IDs due to lack of knowledge/awareness. When I first started out, I was blissfully unaware of the existence of E. umbilicatum and consequently ID’ing all trout lilies I photographed as E. americanum. I have since learned there are two species that are difficult to tell apart unless some specific details are visible, and based on range maps all the ones in my area should be E. umbilicatum instead. I now know which details to photograph to clarify ID whenever I see them, but a lot of other people are still at the “blissfully unaware” stage of this learning curve and a lot of iNat observations consequently are missing the details needed to clearly identify the species based on morphology.

Errors may be present even in herbarium records (see the note here: https://auth1.dpr.ncparks.gov/flora/species_account.php?id=3458), though those can often be corrected by reexamining the physical specimens. Certainly a researcher working with these would have to take extra care to confirm everything. I doubt it will ever get sorted out on iNat level.


Does not the Taraxacum officinale species concept encompass all those microspecies?

In which case, I wouldn’t call it a misidentification; more a difference of opinion as to species concept.

I’ll say it again: if reproductivley isolated, asexually reproducing lineages merit species status, then every banana cultivar is its own species.


Yes, applying species concepts to asexual lineages is problematic, and even worse for asexual lineages with occasional sex.

ID basis including questions or doubts is best to give on the observation page when making an ID. Re: using range vs. morphology for ID, both are important and can be used. In some cases an ID of a species in a cryptic species group can be made based on range alone, although in others using distribution alone doesn’t give enough ID confidence, so it should be assessed on a case by case basis.


I do love iNat! And thank you for letting me know what researchers are looking for (or not looking for). I’m so grateful you typed this out. I filter out most unidentifiable observations, I hope, although I can be wrong on taxa I’m not familiar with for sure.

I guess the term “Research Grade” led me to believe non- or incorrectly identified species were not used. And no, I do a lot of IDs, so I do not post lots of individual flock members. I do sometimes note the size of the flock in the comments. I’ll work on making sure I do a representative individual with comments. Thank you so much, @sedgequeen for helping me be a better iNaturalist!

I’m about service for nature. So that means a lot to me.

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“I’m about service for nature. So that means a lot to me.”

Me, too.


@cthawley thanks for all your answers to my queries, and for this list of examples of how data is used! That’s so helpful, kind, and motivating. I’m super excited to review these links. I probably can’t undelete/replace, but I have quite a few unresolved sightings still not deleted. I guess I’ll leave them. I have tried tagging people and asking to for them to work through their IDs, but people aren’t always on much. Which I get. It’s not our job.

I will relax about Research Grade. The title is a bit problematic, IMO, in that implies non–Research Grade is not usable. I so appreciate you talking me through that process and the implications of RG.

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That makes sense, @brian_d. I appreciate you weighing in on the range and ID issue. I think I mainly worry about that with cryptic photos. I like to encourage iNaturalists who observe a lot but do not yet have great recording equipment. A lot of them are young, and it’s easier to get discouraged when you haven’t developed quite as thick a skin. Thanks so much for your help!


Thanks, @Marina_Gorbunova! I’ve read the help page looking for these answers many times, and find it does not answer most of my questions. I do appreciate you sharing that resource. Also, on the topic of parrots, which I can no longer comment on, the appropriate size cage for a large parrot is about ten square miles. Possible to build an enclosure that size, but unlikely.

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I saw the video with a woman running with flying parrots, I’m interested how working that strategy is?

Research Grade only means 2 people agree on the ID. If there is disagreement along the way then the 2 target morphs to ‘more than 2 thirds’. And, the two who agree, might both be wrong!

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