Why does identifying a few subspecies change the entire observation to that subspecies?

For example: This observation has 5 ‘Merlin’ IDs and only 2 ‘Taiga Merlin’ IDs yet the heading says ‘Taiga Merlin’:

Because the two subspecies identifications are more precise than the species identifications. It’s pretty much the same as having 5 people identifying a bird as “Aves” and then two people identifying it on species level.


Two subspecies ID’s change the Community taxon to Research Grade. Unless you have some objection to this ID and think it should be one of the other subspecies?

You had 5 IDs to sp.
The first ssp ID doesn’t change the CID.
But the second ssp ID jumps straight to RG at ssp.

ID does not do - ssp at Needs ID. Sadly.

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Research grade was reached without the addition of the two subspecies. Why did it change to the subspecies with only 2 subspecies added at the end versus 5 non-subspecies which already brought the observation to research grade? I would think that the heading should read ‘Merlin’ and not ‘Taiga Merlin’ until ‘Taiga Merlin’ outnumbers ‘Merlin’. Simply put … why does 2 outdo 5?

5 was RG at species.

There is no disagreement so

2 agree on ssp = RG.

(You can experiment with the effect on the CID algorithm. Click the What’s This? If you withdraw your ssp ID - it will revert to sp at RG)


I see the logic. I’m not identifying at the subspecific level so I can’t change anything. I understand what’s going on but don’t see eye-to-eye with the logic. Thanks for the explanation.

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See also the related topics below for other discussions around ssp etc.

The logic of the CID algorithm is challenging to me (goes straight over my head) but it is spelt out. That is why I fought, and after years, won the Ancestor Disagreement battle.

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If you disagree that it should be “Taiga Merlin” but don’t know which Merlin ssp. it should be, you can re-ID as Merlin without subspecies and hit the “orange box” for “No but it is a member of Merlin (Falco columbarius)”, which will set it back to species.


Simply put … why does 2 outdo 5?

Any other alternative would be unworkable IMO. Imagine an observation of a monarch, which regularly has 3-5 species level IDs (e.g. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/199693728). I’ve seen up to 10 agreeing species level IDs. A monarch researcher is trying to identify monarchs to subspecies to improve data accuracy–now they must wait for 5 to 10 users to agree with the subspecies before the subspecies becomes the community taxon. Even if we changed it from 2 to 3, it would mean that iNaturalist would have dramatically fewer RG subspecies observations, which would be a big loss.

On another note, it’s not that 2 are outdoing 5, any more than two species level IDs outdo 5 genus level IDs. It’s refinement, not over riding.


I like the way iNaturalist works, at least regarding species and subspecies/varieties. Often I see observations for which I know the species and have no reason to disagree with the subspecies, but can’t ID to subspecies, either. I like that I can agree to the species and it will go RG at the subspecies level (which is usually correct).


I really don’t understand the problem. it’s not as if these are identifications of subspecies of a different species. as has essentially been noted, every single other taxonomic rank works this way in terms of “narrowing without any disagreement”.


There’s no problem. I just didn’t understand the process where a minority set of observations out ranks the species specific identifications. I see how the system works. It’s definitely a Taiga Merlin so no need to change it but this is the expected subspecies. I see more importance identifying to subspecies when the subspecies is unusual for the area.


IMO this is a pretty serious problem, People love to post to subspecies, but they do so with less knowledge than they really need to do so. iNat often suggests the subspecies, so people will think, Cool! and use it. Also, if you post a subspecies ID, even if you’re acting on incomplete information (such as iNat suggesting it but you don’t know what you’re doing) and I follow up with a general ID, it will ask me if I can ID to subspecies and I will say no, but it will go ahead and default to subspecies. There is clear disagreement and one ID is harder, less likely, and requires more specialized knowledge, but iNat picks that one.

Even though incorrect subspecies IDs are much more likely that incorrect species IDs, as the system is set up, they are extremely difficult to correct. There was a Red-shafted Flicker posted recently that I got notification after notification on. This is an extremely tricky ID due to intergrades, and I would rarely feel comfortable doing so on an iNat observation, but iNat stuck to that subspecies ID based on one incorrect identification despite a flood of IDs to species with well-founded critiques.I believe it was only corrected when the OP finally logged in and saw all the hubbub.

IMO this should be looked into and corrected.

If multiple people added species level IDs and the community taxon stayed at subspecies, that means that no one who added a species ID clicked the yellow “No, but I know it is [species]” button to disagree with it.


The CV does not suggest subspecies.


iNat misses the step where
one subspecies ID is Needs ID (that step shows as sp Needs ID)
and then jumps straight to
two ssp IDs is RG.

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as pointed out by others above, none of these assertions are true regarding infraspecies (I assume the frequent recourse to summarising them as “subspecies” is a zoology-centric perspective). iNaturalist never suggests infraspecies, as DT notes. unless there has already been a huge pile-on of infraspecific ID agreement, it’s extremely easy to change by clicking the orange “No, but…” disagreement button, as LJ notes. overall, the total number of infraspecies IDs is probably incredibly low anyway… except for highly distinctive taxa where it’s critical to have the infraspecific taxon entry available in the first place. I really don’t understand what there is to be “corrected”.
I don’t know – maybe the situation is worse in animal subspecies, though I doubt by much. but if anything, at least in the plant and fungi worlds, it would be helpful if infraspecies were part of the CV suggestions. many variety-rank taxa are practically species-in-waiting, and a current-species-level (and no finer) ID is less helpful than one might think.


That is not correct. I always click the “No, I don’t know if it’s a [subspecies] but I know it’s a [species]” button and it stays at research grade at the subspecies level.

That is incorrect! I always click the “I don’t know if it’s a [subspecies] but I know it’s a [species].” It always says Research Grade at the subspecies level.