A few thoughts for refining the new Species Complex taxon.
I think that species complexes should be given a unique name that is different from the name of the species that they are named after.
As an example, currently Dasysyrphus intrudens is the name of a species of hoverfly, and the name of a species complex that includes Dasysyrphus intrudens as its sole species. (Current research shows that what was once thought to be a single species is actually several species, but no other species have yet been described).
Another example is Laphria canis, which is the name of a species of robber fly and the name of a species complex that includes Laphria canis, as well as several other species that cannot be differentiated from photos.
Having two different taxa, one of which is the parent of the other, with the exact same name is a recipe for confusion. Currently, iNaturalist adds the word “Complex” in front of the name of a taxon if it is a species complex. However, this means that the name that is displayed when you ID something is not the actual name of the taxon, which creates other issues. For instance, if you do a search for “Complex Dasysyrphus intrudens”, which is currently the name that would be displayed as the ID on an observation page, it will result in no results, as the actual name of the species complex taxon is just “Dasysyrphus intrudens”.
My suggestion to solve this issue requires two changes:
- A feature change where iNaturalist no longer adds “Complex” in front of the name of taxa that are species complexes
- All species complexes be given a unique name. This could be accomplished by adding the word “complex” after the species name. I.e. the actual taxon name would be “Dasysyrphus intrudens complex”. This would mean that it would come up as an option if you started typing the genus name, which is the most likely thing that someone would type.
Note that the suggestions that come up when you type a name into the “Suggest an Identification” box do not come from the name of the taxon page, but from the names that are listed under “Names” under the Taxonomy tab on the taxon page. These names do not have to agree with the name of the taxon page. So, it is important that the name listed here is the right name.
As a second suggestion, I think that it would be worthwhile to have a warning pop up if someone IDs an observation as a species that is included in a species complex. The species within a species complex are still valid species, so they can’t be merged with the species complex. But the species complex exists because it is difficult or impossible to identify the species from a photo. So, except in extenuating circumstances, the species complex should be chosen as the ID over the species. But it is quite possible for many people, even those who are very familiar with the species, to not know that there is a species complex for that taxon on iNaturalist. So, observations will get put randomly in either the species, or the species complex, and it will require constant vigilance to correct this. A solution would be to prompt an ID’er to ensure that they really meant to chose the species instead of the species complex.