We need to be careful with taxonomy edits to records, imo

I see this a fair bit so I thought it was worth posting.

I mostly focus on mycology, which doesn’t have near enough people adding records, even less going through to verify records. Because we need to encourage the folks we do have I am not sure why some seem really quick to correct taxa and form, which then draws into question the identification provided in a way that many users, specially new ones, will not be able to confirm.

Fungi goes through a lot of taxanomic change and someone new to the group may just have a guide book or two to go by. So when someone suggests a different ID of their observation because of a taxanomic change of just a few months old that can only be confirmed by reading a scientific paper that you have to purchase, how likely is the average user able to verify what is suggested?

I am not saying that it is not important, I am just saying that maybe its not always in the best interests of the data and the encouragement of new users to be making these changes. Maybe you can just leave a comment letting them know the name has changed if you think its important, rather than suggesting a different ID? Also if you are that bored you are surfing observations to make taxanomic changes, just dive into the fungi observations of your area and start confirming and fixing common easily identified fungi, because there is no end to the work needed there.

Just my opinion, do with it as you will.


Hi @culland, you might be interested in reading this: https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/curator+guide#policies and https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/help#taxonomydisagree

If you do ever see an issue with taxonomy on iNaturalist, like if there are two taxa with different names that are really referring to the same species, please do flag it for curation and someone will take a look. You can flag a taxon for curation by going to the page about that taxon, then clicking Curation>Flag for Curation (right side of the page, under the graph).


Thanks, I have actually used that, but that is not my point. I am not saying there is a problem with people’s taxanomic correction in these cases, it is accurate, I am just saying the value in making those corrections that are not verifiable for an average user does more harm than good.

I think there is a point here that while correct, this can be discouraging for newer/novice users. One solution is to comment when you make the ID and explain the updated taxonomy. This can be a bit of a hassle, but if it is a common change that someone is going through, you can just write a comment that you like and then paste it into the comments as you ID observations. But I think most people are happy to learn if observers explain the updated ID.


I think their request is, approximately, “don’t identify a species based on the latest research if that taxonomy is so new it either isn’t in the iNat taxonomy or isn’t publicly available”…?


Agreed, thats what I said above, just add it as a comment, not an id change.

Far as I know you can get it added to iNaturalist fairly easy, or so it appeared when I did it, so I dont think it being in iNaturalist or not should be the determining factor.

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As a relatively new user of iNaturalist and someone who only recently learned to identify anything other than a few obvious edible species of fungi, I actually disagree with this. I was recently corrected because of a taxonomic change that was less than a year old (North American Fomes fomentarius > Fomes excavatus). It’s really cool to have new developments in the field brought to your attention, and it makes you realize how little is known about many branches of life out there. Ideally, someone can also include a comment explaining the change or respond to requests for further information, but having someone improve your ID or change it to reflect real uncertainty based on new data shouldn’t be taken as a slight. Being corrected is how we learn and improve. I post things to this site because I want to get feedback on my attempts at identifying things, and to be corrected if there is anything I am missing, especially knowledge that I’m not able to find on my own (e.g. new research papers behind a paywall).


If it’s in iNat taxonomy it’s good to go, you can’t just not change things because of hypothetical effect on new users, new users either will be interested or don’t care at all, all what is needed to do is a good explanation why your id is different from what people are used to, better with some links to prove your words.


Thats great, really is, but what about others that are not like you? A lot of people are timid, scared of making mistakes. The issue is in a lot of cases there isnt a lot of documentation on these changes yet or its not clear what to do with other species, so when you have someone just change the taxonomy the original observer has no means to verify if the person posting the change is correct or not. Do they just take their word?

Taxonomy change suggestion in comment rather than changing the ID achieves both goals, imo.

Just to clarify, I am suggesting that it is appropriate to add the new and correct ID, but to also comment along with the ID and explain why it is being added (that it’s a new ID not commonly in field guides, whatever).


Changes should ideally be sourced to secondary sources. This is particularly problematic for fungi because there is no global source for all fungi. Generally, though, a change should be sourced to something visible to anyone and not the primary literature.


Barring consideration of things like scihub, this is impossible for fungi. All of the taxonomic authorities have huge holes, and you can’t even point out that they exist without referencing the primary literature. Most of the taxonomic authorities for fungi also don’t really cite the source of their opinion, so often citing them still gets you nowhere (there are exceptions; the New Zealand database, BPI herbarium nomenclature database, and the North American lichen checklist are among them).

Ultimately, what would be nice is some sort of system that points out misapplications or taxonomic changes. For instance, if someone in North America wants to enter Fomitopsis pinicola, a system that points out that what people had called that in North America can be one of three species, but not F. pinicola. Or somehow otherwise takes geography into account with an explanation that if you are using such and such a name in such and such a place, probably you mean this other name actually. I don’t really know if such a thing would work, though. Splits are great, but unless you really stay on top of it, you often just end up with a similar situation to before the split.

Leaving a comment is good, but can get difficult if you are jumping around a kingdom dealing with a bunch of different sources that are geography specific. Plus, it is exhausting to leave comments citing even open access sources only to have other people come along and support the wrong ID with no explanation. It just wears.


Just supporting all the point made by James. Modern sequencing data show clearly that fungi can both very variable in their appearance and quite localised in their distribution. The consequence is that many of our historical broad species concepts are turning out to be wrong. North America is a good example where historically the names of fungi from Europe were adopted for species that looked approximately, or sometimes identically the same as those in North America. Often the genetic data show they are not the same. Often the data show that multiple undescribed species in North America have been labelled with an entirely wrong single European name. As a consequence very many identifications are ‘misapplications’, and the recognition of the newly recognised indigenous species has only really just started. We have a long way to go.

In my opinion it is important that we do try to correctly record these newly recognise species - some may be threatened for example. Unfortunately identifications are usually even more difficult than they were previously. What we thought were good diagnostic characters turn out to be misleading. As James indicates what is needed is some mechanism for flagging these regional misapplications so users are aware of the situation. That is hard to do. Few resources on the web, or in print, tackle this issue, and none have achieved the difficult task of making it clear what is going on. iNaturalist currently has no mechanism for dealing with these misapplied identifications when they are about to be made. We can perform ‘taxon splits’ on existing observations when one of these historical misapplications is sorted out in the literature (and they are probably the root of the issue being discussed here), but it doesn’t stop people carrying on using the older incorrect concepts in their field guides etc. It would not be sensible to freeze the iNat taxonomy and wait for the field guides to catch up - and for people to buy them on a regular basis and shelve their old ones. And to respond to every such incorrect identification on iNat with the relevant information is not possible given the relatively few people who recognise these misapplications and the limited time they can make available to provide comments.

I have sympathy, but no solution, and no recommendation that we stop tracking these important taxonomic changes.


I’m new to iNat. I’m doing an ongoing yard survey documenting all living things on my acre. I’d rather an observation be corrected by someone with expertise, than just added as a comment. When that happens, I’m left dangling, knowing I don’t have access to the latest data, or time &/or money to waste digging for verification.
However, I really appreciate when taxonomy changes or ID corrections are explained kindly. I’ve had mostly good experiences here, but have had many corrections made with curt and unhelpful comments like, “not justified.” I’m learning to grow a thicker skin, but I’d rather have my feelings hurt than have dozens of observations languishing incorrectly identified. Holding back on corrections when multiplied by all the users would also lowers the overall data quality, methinks.


ouch. sorry about that. maybe ask for elaboration? some specialists and experts leave short or no comments because they don’t think the observers care. they may open up if you show curiousity in their work… I hope.

I, in all my newbie-ness, uploaded submissions that were not correct to species in an uncommon genus of moths. I got multiple replies from an identifier. I did appreciate the correction (though not perhaps the manner), and have since learned to err on the side of caution in areas where I lack expertise.

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But if you do that you have an incorrectly identified organism.
Better to correctly identify the organism and explain why. If someone is put off by that, that’s unfortunate. But I don’t think we should reduce the quality of our dataset to avoid discouraging an overly sensitive user. My experience has been just the opposite. People welcome correction and are grateful for it.


In my opinion, the underlying value of iNaturalist is that it accurately reflects life on earth. It then provides data about all that life, while various features and functions make it worthwhile to various users who appreciate different aspects of the app. But it all flows out of that underlying value of being tied to an up to date and complete scientific view of what the millions of species are. If iNat begins to deviate significantly from reflecting our true, current understanding of those species, it would be essentially selling the land out from under the farm. At that point it would be largely abandoned by the scientific community, and then all the less-expert users would lose all that identification expertise. We can’t water it down because some taxonomy is too hard. You might have trouble with fungi; I have trouble with sandpipers and sparrows. But someone out there can tell them apart. Let’s not toss away that rigour, or the whole thing will fall apart. If an observation might really be one of 3 lookalike species, so be it.


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