Thoughts on dealing with imported subfamilies, tribes etc

Increasingly it seems like more and more of these are getting imported by users using the external imports tools. When they show up in the ungrafted taxa list, I am curious what approach other curators feel should be taken.

Guidance on these less official node levels in the curator guide can I think be best called as cautious, leaning towards preferring against their use :

  • if you graft them into place, they just end up as orphans, nothing moves under them. It can be a huge task to populate them, even worse if someone imports subfamility X, but it turns out subfamilies Y,Z, A, B, C and D also exist
  • set them as inactive, which will inevitably lead to flags about why did you set my subfamily inactive, it is a perfectly valid name.
  • other ?

I generally take the first approach–graft them in place, and if I have time and understanding to work it out, try to move some or all of the correct genera. The major failure cases here are people following the taxon, or using it in identification filters, and not capturing some observations due to genera not being moved; or identification disagreements getting bumped up to a higher level. But people making use of subfamilies and tribes are likely to have a good grasp of the taxonomy on that branch of the tree, and this will presumably help bring it to their eyes and encourage them to fix it, so I think it’s preferable to suppressing those ranks.

That on is kind of the biggest hurdle in my view. The curator guide is pretty clear that we should adopt an all or none approach, ie don’t start what you can’t finish.

Specifically it says ‘If you want to add additional nodes to a tree make sure you are willing and able to spend the time ensuring that all nodes globally that should be included in that node are grafted as descendants.’

And further ‘As a rule of thumb, not including additional nodes in iNaturalist is preferable to including but only partially curating additional nodes as in the middle tree above.’

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I had taken that as a directive on curators importing new taxa–don’t deliberately import intermediate levels of classification unless you’re willing to populate them. OTOH, once they’ve already been pulled into the database, I think a partial fix is better than none.

If I find an ungrafted mid-level taxon, I might graft it in if:

  • I can find reasonable taxonomic support for it (so not just some guy’s blog)
  • there’s a comprehensive source describing everything that should be under it
  • it seems like people actually use it, like for some of the really big insect clades

Otherwise I’m likely to just leave it alone or to flag it for someone else’s opinion.

I guess I don’t see this as a huge problem as long as everything that belongs under X gets moved to X. So this doesn’t really bother me:

Tribe X (Genus 1, Genus 2, Genus 3)
Genus 4 (belongs to Tribe Y, but iNat doesn’t have Y)
Genus 5 (belongs to Tribe A, but iNat doesn’t have A)

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