Where taxonomy does iNat follow when applying to plants?

I was looking up certain species of the genus Juniperus on the Oregon Flora Atlas, a website that has specimen records of all flora species across my state. So very scientific and stuff. And they had two records in my county labeled as the Jack’s Juniper (Juniperus communis var. jackii) which is apparently not a taxon on iNat nor a synonym. So what taxonomy does iNat follow to determine what taxon need changing.

I think there are a variety of databases that iNat uses or has used, though last I heard it seems like they were attempting to follow Plants of the World online. With that said, I believe there is still a lot of manual curation in order to link synonyms and unless someone takes the initiative synonyms can often linger as separate taxa on iNat. For the variety of Juniperus you mentioned, in the Flora of North America it is currently treated as Juniperus communis var. montana, so perhaps the Oregon Flora Atlas is not up to date on the latest taxonomy.
Interestingly, Plants of the world online, treats var. jackii as a synonym of var. saxatilis. Not being an expert on that species, I don’t know what the latest treatment is.

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See https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/curator+guide#authorities

If you scroll up a bit from where that link lands, you will see some of the background information too.


Plants (Plantae)

The taxon framework that covers the accepted plant phyla is based on the Catalogue of Life 2018 Annual Checklist. The other authorities we follow are:

Vascular plants (Tracheophyta) : Kew’s Plants of the World Online (POWO) with deviations described here. As of August 2018, current policy excludes following POWO for ferns and genera that start with “P”. See this journal post for more information. @bouteloua is a taxon curator for this group.

It’s not so much a matter of not having a taxonomic reference to follow for plants, as stated above with a couple of exceptions, the site does have one.

Finding records that require review is something that is relatively easy for curators to do. The issue is the volume.

There are currently over 45,000 plants on the site that require curator review, which I am defining as the relationship between the iNat taxa and and associated taxa on POWO is not established.

These typically can fall into 3 categories;

  • taxa that actually are aligned between the 2 but that relationship has not been documented.
  • taxa on iNat that are accepted as synonyms of another name on POWO
  • errors on iNat, be they spelling, outdated names, names that simply dont exist, names imported from other non POWO sources etc

Every one of these have to be manually reviewed and a decision made on how to move forward. In cases where there are observation records that would be impacted, the need for background review is even higher. When a decision is made, it often requires updating them, again one at a time in many cases.

To do this, it is exclusively volunteer curators, While the ‘People’ page of the site may list a couple of hundred curators, the reality is that a significant majority of the curation is done by perhaps 20 people (there are others who might do smaller numbers, or only do a specific area etc, but generally speaking there is a small group doing a big portion of the load). This work covers everything from all flags - copyright issues, complaints about improper observations, ‘someone was mean to me on the site’ etc plus the entire taxonomy of the database.

If you find a species you feel needs review, the best option is to use the ‘flag for curation’ link on the specific taxa page to draw it to the attention of the curators.


It’s what I’m planning on doing but I wanted to make sure if even the taxon is up to date for the reasons that rymcdaniel said:

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