What's the proper placement for undescribed taxa?

I’m not finding an answer on previous threads for the particular nuance of this question that I’m asking. On a slightly different (closed) discussion, @cmcheatle mentioned,

“It is site policy to not include undescribed or unnamed taxa into its taxonomy database.”

Fine. So if we anticipate (i.e. know) that there will be a future split of a species, and we either (a) know the subject of the observation will be the new species, or (b) the newly split species will likely be difficult to distinguish in photos, then (Q1) what is the appropriate best placement for the observation at present? The options would seem to be to place the observation at genus level or hang it on the presently accepted polyphyletic species. Q2: Are there pragmatic reasons of management of observations (i.e. post-split) which argue for one of these options or the other?

For some Texas Lepidoptera that fall into this conundrum, we are seeing some folks placing these at the genus level while others opt to hang the observation on the currently accepted identity of the yet-to-be-split taxon. Perhaps the two scenarios I describe above require different placement, but some general guidance will be appreciated.

Provided that your sensu lato species can be split by location (e.g. all the western individuals will become new species A and all the eastern individuals will become new species B), then from a data management perspective, your best bet is to use the current sensu lato taxon. If you do this, then when the species is split, the location of the observation can be used to change the IDs to the new species. But if the IDs are genus level, the split won’t move them to the new species.

Also remember that an iNat taxon only ever refers to one species concept. So if iNat is using the sensu lato definition, users shouldn’t be claiming that they consider that name to refer to the sensu stricto species concept.


So if we end up dealing with (future) sympatric cryptic species, then genus level might be the appropriate pre-split placement? That’s the situation we are anticipating with the genus Cissusa (Lep: Erebidae) in Texas. A long discussion of this particular example can be seen here:
but we have several other examples of anticipated splits when/if the taxonomists get around to them.

What I would recommend is leaving it at genus for the time being, and adding an observation field that details the species if it is not yet in the database.

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You can still use the current sensu lato taxon for IDs, but if the particular location ends up mapped to both species, the IDs will get bumped to genus when the taxon is split. So there isn’t really a worry that the ID will end up in the wrong species.


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