My Take on Taxonomy

Names are a human creation.

Scientific names are a human creation that is meant to link to species, a somewhat concrete way to classify plants which often works and sometimes doesn't work.

Classifying is useful. It's one of the things the human brain is really good at. Some of us (many autistic people as one example) are compulsively driven to classify and categorize and sort things.

Scientific names are meant to represent the evolutionary history and relationships of organisms. The hierarchical nature of scientific names is a very effective tool, though the different levels of classification, such as genus, species, and subspecies, are also somewhat arbitrary. Recently, new sorts of genetic analysis technology has allowed for us to learn even more about how species are related. Most scientists think genetic analysis can be used to track species lineages.

Scientific names - the Linnaean taxonomy system- are also the anchor for iNaturalist, necessary for iNaturalist to work at all.

New ideas about how species are related often appear in scientific literature. Some people on iNaturalist feel that the second any new possible evidence comes out, the scientific names should all be adjusted. These people have been put in charge of the species database of iNaturalist and for whatever reason also given moderator duties. Thus names are changing constantly.

The constantly changing names become less useful as tools, and much harder to use in database used to monitor biodiversity. There is some benefit to acting on new information, but there is a downside too that is always ignored. In fact some taxonomists become quite hostile when asked about it.

It's unfortunate that the people in charge of iNat have decided to go the 'constant taxonomic change' route. The site is meant to 'connect people with nature' and since that is largely done via identifying organisms, when the names don't work, inaturalist doesn't really work.

In the conservation world, there are always limited time and resources. Time and resources needs to be spent dealing with constant taxonomy change. It isn't just an irritation, it is a problem. No doubt thousands of hours of ecologist time has been wasted on excessive name changes, probably resulting in much less ecological inventory and possibly even resulting in species extinctions.

Ways to reduce these issues could consist of limiting the rate of change, limiting the frequency of change (release taxonomic changes only once every few years), limiting 'splitting' (splitting is dividing one species into two or several based on minute and obscure differences) and applying splitting to subspecies instead of species (subspecies are finer units that 'nest' within species). Some of this change could occur within iNaturalist but others are beyond the level of iNaturalist and lie within academia and other such places.

Unfortunately suggesting these things makes many taxonomists Very Angry. The names must always conform to the latest science, even if the latest science isn't settled science at all. Questioning the relative value of splitting and change, or questioning whether it should be applied to iNat, are a good way to get harassed by a lot of people on here. Some people of well established social status are able to 'bend' the iNat guidelines much more than others without consequence, the guidelines are not consistently enforced largely because the majority of people with moderator power are taxonomists or similar and will actively push non-taxonomist curators away. I find it all very frustrating, so instead of continuing to bicker with taxonomists i will make this journal post and link to it.

iNaturalist used to do a better job balancing change with stability, but unfortunately that is not the case any more. Hopefully in the future it will be again. I've changed back to displaying common names instead of scientific names because they are more consistent and useful. That says a lot doesn't it?

Note: Disagreeing and debating is fine but if you are going to come on here and tell me i don't know what i am talking about because i don't agree lock-step with taxonomists, you might as well just not do so. I'm fully aware of the issues involved, i just disagree with how taxonomy is practiced.

Here is what i would do if i were in charge (which is probably why i am never in charge):

-Revert taxonomy all back to before the madness started (maybe 2018 or so). All of it.
-Allow for reasonable creation of super-species and sub-species level taxonomic units for those who want to try to parse out new splits, but do NOT allow it to interfere with the 2018 taxonomy. Make it so that the real species still displays as well as the new proposed things. Maybe let people opt out if they want, though i wouldn't even opt out if it were clear what the 2018 name was too.
-in 2030 do a huge site wide review of taxonomy and if we still want these splits and changes, make all of them at once, up to changes made in 2025. The more recent ones need to wait for the next similar review in 5 to 10 more years. You could set up a way to create proposed draft changes, but they do NOT take effect until 2030 and at that time it will occur with lots of crosswalking and documentation. Maybe an exportable record of 2018 name.

The taxonomists can still use their splitty taxonomy via the taxonomic units, but the other 99% of us can use the site for its intended purposes of connecting people with nature and documenting biodiversity in a way that can be applied to real world conservation.

Posted on Ιούλιος 08, 2022 0205 ΠΜ by charlie charlie


I truly agree that specified times to release new names would do the entire world some good. I have no idea where the governing body is that changes them or when they do it or why. Usually, I don't care. But when I can't "research" on Google because of it or see errors (but are they errors? is what I usually ask), I just give up for the day. Is there even an official spot to see what changes have happened?

Αναρτήθηκε από andreerenosanborn περίπου 2 χρόνια πριν

My experience is it is totally freeform and all you have to do is publish a paper. This may be totally false, but it's my cynical experience with plants. It's probably even worse with other less understood taxa. There is supposedly a botanical congress which ahs some control over taxonomic names and changes, but they seem pretty light handed and in favor of splitters... and readily accept names like Chamaepericlymenum canadense and Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani which seem ridiculously long and pointless - some data collection methodologies require writing entire scientific names on a datasheet, and these names basically break databases with their absurdity. It's completely unnecessary. Maybe they have poetic latin meanings but someone seems to forget that others actually have to use these names for data collection. Sigh.

Αναρτήθηκε από charlie περίπου 2 χρόνια πριν

The common dandelion is a case in point. Does a new or otherwise amateur naturalist really care whether there are hundreds of microspecies? From an ecological point of view, they're all Taraxacum officinale. I would venture to say that to someone using them for food, winemaking, or medicine, they're all Taraxacum officinale, too; that is, the different alleged microspecies do not have different culinary or medicinal properties. It might not be so bad if the users who so pedantically bump every observation back to Section Taraxacum ventured to identify some of those alleged microspecies, or explained what features they would look for in order to do so; but you never see that, do you? At best, all you get out of them is that the earliest leaves of the season look a bit different, and as the season goes on, the differences disappear. To most of us who aren't militant splitters, that says a lot.

We don't do this with banana cultivars. All cultivated bananas are triploids, hence can only reproduce asexually, but we don't call every cultivar its own microspecies.

Αναρτήθηκε από jasonhernandez74 σχεδόν 2 χρόνια πριν

yeah i mean, i'm not a new naturalist, and while i find taraxacum geneology somewhat interesting, i dont classify microspecies during surveys and most likely never will.

Αναρτήθηκε από charlie σχεδόν 2 χρόνια πριν

Wow, agree with all that ^^^^ there should be a buffer. Maybe even a "pending taxon change" change flag, that might be best, and a metric so that one publication does not shift the entire world so immediately. I have found in every venue, forum, resource, or event, you are going to find johnny-on-the-spot, so it's best to expect that. Additionally, on the birding side of things I've seen subspecies given names that no person on earth has ever heard haha... power corrupts :)

Αναρτήθηκε από rudyard πάνω από 1 χρόνo πριν

@charlie Re: this post as well as the comments on this flag ( I'm extremely sympathetic to your position, I can entirely empathize with your feelings of not being listened to, and I wholeheartedly agree with some of your points. I've also been very frustrated by both the constant taxonomic changes and the specific methods that curators/staff have decided to either use or to not use in order to implement those taxonomic changes. Same goes with some identifiers' very strict, impractical, and counterproductive IDing policies. In fact, I definitely have very strong lumper tendencies outside of the context of iNat. However, I think iNat should really be a splitter rather than a lumper. After all, one of the purposes of iNat is for it to be used for research. iNat can be extremely useful in helping make decisions about species delineations, species descriptions, biogeography/distribution patterns, habitat requirements, and so on- but this is only possible if we are able to test hypotheses and map out data by dissecting out lineages into multiple groups. It may be annoying, and definitely incurs a number of costs, but the constant taxonomic updating helps to advance science and makes iNat a more authoritative and useful tool overall.

On the topic of the costs, I'm wondering- how do taxonomic changes negatively affect your ability to use iNat in a professional context? Taxon splits and other changes can usually be counteracted fairly easily in my experience. One of the great things about iNat is that it has a lot of hidden functions that allow you to search for and display exactly the kind of data that you want to see. You can search for multiple taxa, you can exclude specific taxa from your results, and you can also search for identifications and not just the community taxon. It seems to me that most of the time these tools would be sufficient to make up for the taxonomic changes, no?

Αναρτήθηκε από davidenrique πάνω από 1 χρόνo πριν

@davidenrique thanks!
I get why people want to split, and i understand that my somewhat extreme view isn't realistic for iNat either, i just want some balance. I would remind you that not all research iNat is used for is taxonomy. I'm a genearlist ecologists who uses vegetation, soils, hydrology, and other factors to assess wetlands, and to me the constant taxonomy change makes my research harder, not easier, to the point where i use iNat less directly for my job than I used to. I had aspirations to connect my inat observations with my plant database so i could use iNat to conduct my inventories and then import the data to my database. But with iNat's current policies that won't work because every taxon change causes database issues and it just wastes too much time dealing with that. If it were one set of changes every few years it would be doable but for the constant stream it just isn't. I manage my own database and don't have anything fancy, i don't have SQL skills or anything. The impact is significant enough that it just isn't worth it and I can't justify the use of iNat to skeptical state policymakers who already had two strike against it due to general luddite-ism. So I don't use iNat for more than a general 'field notebook' or for fun now. It isn't a tool I can use for applied ecology any more. I'm glad taxonomists are able to use it, but to me the tradeoff doesn't seem worth it.
I recognize others want to use it for other purposes and i won't always get just what i want. I just wish more people who were not taxonomists were included in this discussion. We all have to use the taxonomy that iNat adopts, if we want to use the site. I personally think a 5-10 year freeze on taxonomic changes on iNat until the more level headed science can catch up to the taxonomic frenzy around genetic analysis and such, but i recognize theres about zero chance that will happen.

Αναρτήθηκε από charlie πάνω από 1 χρόνo πριν

Ah, thanks for elaborating. I can totally see how taxonomic changes would make it really difficult to import/synchronize between different databases. Maybe iNat staff will eventually implement export tools that allow you to automatically reconcile certain taxonomic differences as you export the data, but I assume that the priority for getting something like that done is pretty low. I'm sure it would still be a big pain anyway, and some taxonomic changes wouldn't be able to be reconciled at all.

Αναρτήθηκε από davidenrique πάνω από 1 χρόνo πριν

Yeah, thus far they have not showed any sign of concern or sympathy for this issue, which isn't to say they don't care at all, but they seem to just want to follow any proposed splitting as 'the most current science' which to me is not the way to go and isn't actually always good science. I am surprised more people don't speak up about this issue, but i suspect most people just lose interest and leave iNat when confronted with an increasingly unusable database, or else are low experience amateurs who just assume species ID isn't accessible to them at all, which is too bad.

Αναρτήθηκε από charlie πάνω από 1 χρόνo πριν

I’m saddened that iNat data is less useful than it could be for people working on conservation related research and projects. While I don’t think of my observations as hugely impactful, I still like to think of them as a very small contribution to protect biodiversity.

When I first joined iNaturalist, I was delighted by all the helpful information I was getting from experts. I noticed a decline in activity from specific individuals over the past few years. When I saw Forum posts indicating that identifiers were being overwhelmed, I though that might be the cause and started trying to help with identifications. I’m starting to consider that the continual taxonomic changes may have driven some experts away (or at least to be less active). It also could serve as other potential identifiers that experiment with iNaturalist. Of course, this is entirely speculation on my part.

Αναρτήθηκε από whitneybrook πάνω από 1 χρόνo πριν

Yeah, there are a lot of people who come and go for a lot of reasons. I certainly reduced my IDs for others by quite a lot when the taxonomy thing got out of control. I still add my own observations but it's already quite hard to use it for my conservation work because so many of them are constantly changing names. Taxonomists seem to think everyone else should just accept their view on the species concept, but in reality, its important to pretty much all humans to have a relationship with nature, and names are a big part of how we understand things. It's just a shame people won't even listen... at least not the ones doing the damage.

Αναρτήθηκε από charlie πάνω από 1 χρόνo πριν

I like the topic you are talking about because I like to do container and individual projects on taxa in my city and when these change they are different from my projects when my goal is to cover all taxa as kingdoms, phyla and other high taxa as orders in my city. . I don't like that some taxa don't have a photo Nor that some taxa are diminished, such as archaea or glaucophytes, are not promoted so that they have a greater number of observations. Fungal and viral taxa are constantly changing and too large in number for my liking.

Αναρτήθηκε από srsvivos 12 μήνες πριν

Excellent journal article.

Αναρτήθηκε από sim_elliott 10 μήνες πριν


Αναρτήθηκε από charlie 10 μήνες πριν

this problem only continues to get worse, as iNat curators are now regularly using individual scientific papers and even unreviewed manuscripts to justify splits. POWO is already way too heavy towards splits and revisionism and iNat has deviated even beyond POWO in its zealotry to split things. The site is increasingly unusable for anything other than theoretical taxonomy, as there are no longer floras that exist to actually identify plants in the fields based on this hodge podge of taxonomic activism and speculative masters thesises on excessive splitting. Sigh. It won't be long before the site collapses completely, i think.

Αναρτήθηκε από charlie 9 μήνες πριν

I'm a curator who just so happened to come across this fascinating article. We may all have our own opinions, so here are my opinions and thoughts.

It's unfortunate that the people in charge of iNat have decided to go the 'constant taxonomic change' route.

One of the reasons there are curators on this website is to keep much of iNat up to date with the newest taxonomic changes. If it were not so, much of the taxa would not match what is found elsewhere, such as how the family spider family Corinnidae is now split into Corinnidae, Phrurolithidae, and Trachelidae. Whether we like it or not, this is what should be done.

Some people on iNaturalist feel that the second any new possible evidence comes out, the scientific names should all be adjusted.

That is because it is our job to do so, but not all have to be adjusted. For example, other curators have decided to leave Araneidae split into Araneidae, Nephilidae, Paraplectanoididae, and Phonognathidae, even though this does not match the World Spider Catalog (which iNaturalist follows). This is, yes, because this is changed back and forth, so they decided to just leave them separate.

In the conservation world, there are always limited time and resources. Time and resources needs to be spent dealing with constant taxonomy change. It isn't just an irritation, it is a problem. No doubt thousands of hours of ecologist time has been wasted on excessive name changes, probably resulting in much less ecological inventory and possibly even resulting in species extinctions.

I must agree, taxonomy is in chaos at the moment, but scientists study and publish relationships between organisms because it is their job to do so. While there are these types of scientists, there are also scientists who do work on protecting species.

iNaturalist used to do a better job balancing change with stability, but unfortunately that is not the case any more.

The number of curators has significantly increased over the past few years. The more curators there are, the more is going to be changed, so I'm not surprised.

Hopefully in the future it will be again. I've changed back to displaying common names instead of scientific names because they are more consistent and useful. That says a lot doesn't it?

But in groups such as arthropods, almost every species doesn't have any common name, and at least for spiders, it is easy to see what has been done to the old scientific name(s) by using "search" on the World Spider Catalog. And many common names can be shared by organisms, such as how many Brachypelma spp. are called "fire-" or "flame-leg tarantulas".

Most scientists think genetic analysis can be used to track species lineages.

If you are saying it is absurd, this is the first time ever I have read something that agreed with me on Phylogeny. Phylogeny plays a major impact on splitting, grouping, or moving taxa. For example, the genus Cicurina has been transferred from Agelenidae to Dictynidae to Hahniidae to Cicurinidae to Hahniidae and now Cicurinidae, but it won't stay this way. Unfortunately, most taxonomists nowadays are also larger splitters.

Phylogeny I think is very chaotic nowadays. It suggests ideas that I consider to be hypocritical (such as transferring the two-clawed Cupiennius to the three-clawed Trechaleidae when the group it is in is supposed to be for three-clawed spiders only, according to those same taxonomists) or unreasonable (such as moving Molycriinae to Gnaphosidae even though virtually everything else, such as the more stable spinneret morphology, suggests placing them back in Prodidomidae).

Some also says using genitals from this classification is the correct way to classify spiders, but this is far from reasonable. One of my favorite examples is that some members of the linyphiid genus Neriene, the gnaphosid species Drassodex hypocrita, and the agelenid species Agelenopsis potteri have female genitalia that could easily suggest lumping these into a single genus(!!!), yet virtually everything else strongly supports their separate familial placements.

The problem is no one even pays attention when someone brings anything like that up. Genetics alone are certainly not useful for classifying spiders. Phylogeny taxonomists may say that it "tells the real tale", but it is absolutely absurd, in my opinion.

Αναρτήθηκε από huttonia 3 μήνες πριν

well, the thing is most applied databases i've worked with don't change NEARLY as fast as iNat which is a citizen science site that would be better served following commonly used field guides than the current splitter taxonomy. Ultimately this is a site for connecting people with nature and allowing for reasonable collection of biodiversity data, not a place to have near-daily taxon changes to try to fit one fringe of biology in a way that most others using it don't. Obviously a lot of people don't agree with me and do want to use iNat as a 'cutting edge' splitter nexus. But i think it does harm and will continue to get worse. Unfortunately the splitters are firmly in control at the moment so i suspect the damage will continue to worsen. Hopefully i'm wrong.

"The number of curators has significantly increased over the past few years. The more curators there are, the more is going to be changed, so I'm not surprised."

I don't think more curators making more changes is actually a good thing. There's a whole lot of problems with the curator system really.

Αναρτήθηκε από charlie 3 μήνες πριν

@charlie Unfortunately, I don't think you're wrong. Splitting is too "popular" now, and it seems a lot of people go a bit to the extreme with the real diversity of organisms. Also unfortunate, most people seem to disagree on what should be considered "field guide," specifically when it comes to phylogenetic taxonomists. And most phylogenetic ideas (at least with spiders) are terrible for identifying without actually killing and examining the specimen (which is very sad just to identify it to something broader like family). I remember the days when taxonomy was easier and less arguable.

Αναρτήθηκε από huttonia 3 μήνες πριν

Yeah there are for sure no easy answers. And, i have to admit plants are my main area of focus and while splitters really have created a lot of challenges, plants still seem much more straightforward in taxonomy than spiders. For groups that never got described in the first place it's really hard to sort how to describe new biodiersity without delving into heavy splitting. And what works as a 'species' in Plantae may not for spiders. Plants are used for quick easy measures of ecosystem condition, and identifying lots of plants quickly can give you a feel for the condition of a wetland, forest, etc. There's no way to do that with spiders, they are small, and they are just always going to be way harder to ID. So when i say we need a taxonomy that's mostly usable in the field, i recognize that may be totally unviable for spiders...

Αναρτήθηκε από charlie 3 μήνες πριν

Oh yeah, I get that. It appears the more popular the taxon, the more attention it gets, and thus the more splitting it receives. Spiders I consider very popular when they are compared to something like isopods (many species are mixed up in random genera, I've heard), so that's why I see spiders being split much more than isopods.

Another problem is when people split in one group more than they do in another group. In spiders, people go crazy for splitting jumping spiders (Salticidae), money spiders (Linyphiidae), and tarantulas (Theraphosidae), but then in most other families, splitting is not nearly as chaotic. In those families I mentioned, tons of genera are stuck with just one or maybe two species when others are crammed with species, even when differences are just as significant or insignificant as those splitting or lumping others.

Αναρτήθηκε από huttonia 3 μήνες πριν

Oh jeez. Yeah that sounds really frustrating. I think it varies some in plants but some of it is just that some plants have clear species divides and others do not.

Αναρτήθηκε από charlie 3 μήνες πριν

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