Why I strongly object to iNaturalist listing Urtica dioica gracilis as "Urtica gracilis", then designating native Urtica dioica as "Introduced" in North America

The labeling of our native Stinging Nettles – Urtica dioica as “introduced” has really made me upset, but earlier I very inappropriately vented my anger in this forum on a previous version of this post. Another mistake I've since learned from! My apologies! Here is a shorter, and sweeter version:

In early 2022 an iNaturalist curator replaced Urtica dioica gracilis with Urtica gracilis, following a newer taxonomy of POWO – London's Kew Gardens' Plants of the World Online, which followed the taxonomy changes proposed in a 2014 paper “Weeding the Nettles II”, which one of the Kew Gardens taxonomists co-wrote. iNaturalist regularly follows the taxonomy of POWO, even when it isn't widely agreed upon by world univeristies. iNaturalist then designated Urtica dioica as an introduced species in North America. POWO and iNaturalist now are using the full species name “Urtica gracilis” for what what most American universities still call “Urtica dioica gracilis". These universities use "Urtica dioica dioica" for the Eurasian taxon. In calling the North American native taxon “Urtica gracilis”, and in calling “Urtica dioica” with no subspecies designation “introduced” in North America, iNaturalist is what iNaturalist calls a “maverick”.

I strongly oppose this taxonomy change for multiple reasons. The first is that the new taxon name achieves nothing. We already had the taxon name “Urtica dioica gracilis” for that taxon, native to North America, and we already had the taxon name “Urtica dioica dioica” for the Eurasian taxon, that iNaturalist is now just calling “Urtica dioica”. The constant changing of taxon names comes at a great cost, in that it undermines the purpose of scientific names, to have one name for each taxon that everyone in the world can use. We now have different people using different scientific names for this taxon, either because they are following a different taxonomic authority, because they didn't agree with the new name, hadn't learned the new name, or didn't know the old name. It also adds to the cost of what has become constant work updating names of taxa, or adding synonyms to taxon names, and finding all of the records for one taxon under multiple names.

The second reason I strongly oppose this taxonomy change is that it has come together with the labeling of Urtica dioica as an introduced species in North America, while both older records of the native taxon continue to go under “Urtica dioica”, and newer observations of the native taxon continue to be identified as "Urtica dioica". These identifications of newer observations of the native taxon as "Urtica dioica" come from observers and identifiers, that either don't know the latest proposed taxonomy change, or following the taxonomy of most North American universities, don't agree with it.

While there are a small number of records of the European taxon, Urtica dioica dioica, in North America, the vast majority of records of Urtica dioica that indicate race, in at least my Pacific Northwest of North America, are for one of two native taxa, Urtica dioica gracilis, or U. dioica holosericea. Of 1337 records of Urtica dioica displayed by CPNWH – the Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria they have only 31 North American records of the non-native Urtica dioica dioica.

I particularly object to the labeling of most Stinging Nettle records in North America because, as a long time advocate for protecting, and planting, native butterfly host (caterpillar food) plants, Stinging Nettle has been at the top of my list of plants that need to be protected, and planted, but labeling them “introduced” would have many people eradicating it, and not planting it. Of the approximate 20 species of butterflies that we may find in my city of Seattle, 5 use Stinging Nettle as a host plant, and for 3 of those 5 it is an obligate host plant, them being unable to lay their eggs on any other species. Two of these 5 species occur throughout North America, and throughout the Northern Hemisphere, and additional butterfly species in North America (and in Eurasia) use Stinging Nettle as either an obligate host plant, or facultative host plant, that is they are able to lay their eggs on other plant species also. The Red Admiral, the species found through most of the Northern Hemisphere, that only lays its eggs here on Stinging Nettle - Urtica dioica.

My initial reaction to iNaturalist labelling our native Stinging Nettles, that have long gone under the name “Urtica dioica”, and continue to go by that name, was to make all of my identifications of North American Stinging Nettles, as “Urtica gracilis”, both so these native plants wouldn't be treated as introduced species, and because I thought I was just following new, current taxonomy, but I later realized that was problematic. First, I couldn't change all 23,000 pre-existing Stinging Nettle observations in North America to “Urtica gracilis”, and that new observations of North American native Stinging Nettles would continue to go under “Urtica dioica”, and that my calling them “Urtica gracilis” effectively supported the taxonomy change that led to North American native Stinging Nettles being called “introduced”.

The people making the name change may not have fully weighed the disadvantages of the name change against any advantage of having taxonomy that they may have thought slightly more accurate.

Posted on Σεπτέμβριος 13, 2023 1254 ΠΜ by stewartwechsler stewartwechsler

Σχόλια

This is an excellent essay pointing out a major issue in the current treatment of American nettles on INaturalist. Last time we discussed this, there was a proposal for an automatic relabeling of all the old U. dioca observations in North America, which often happens with taxon changes. I am not a curator or expert on these matters, but I wonder if this unfortunate and woefully inaccurate situation could be rectified by a curator who completes the proposed taxon swap and implements some kind of relabeling of the old Urtica dioca observations.

Obviously, there are many questions on how that could be done, such as relabeling to genus or to U. gracilis gracilis (the subspecies). Both should get the offending "introduced" flag removed, wouldn't they?

What do you think, Stewart, is there a way forward, and what is it? Clearly this is an important issue, and the righteous indignation with which you speak such impassioned words speaks to the significance of the issue, which may indeed affect how nettles are treated and ultimately affect the health of butterfly species that are already under threat due to habitat reduction. Is there a solution within the current taxonomy or is the only solution to revert to the older taxonomy?
Gordon

Αναρτήθηκε από gordonhogenson 10 μήνες πριν

One downside of just re-labelling all old "Urtica dioica" observations in North America to "Urtica gracilis gracilis" is that a high percentage of the North American universities, and other taxonomic authorities, still call our native material "Urtica dioica gracilis" (or just "Urtica dioica"), so both people who just have always known the plant as "Urtica dioica", and those following those taxonomic authorities that still call our native material "Urtica dioica" will continue to call the observations of North American native material "Urtica dioica" in the future. I'm not sure I followed the reasons they never officially committed the taxon change, but there was discussion of "Urtica dioica" or possibly "Urtica gracilis" observations being moved to "Urtica", that some didn't want.

Αναρτήθηκε από stewartwechsler 10 μήνες πριν

I looked back at old nettle observations in Washington, and I see that most are at genus. It looks like ajwright a few other people went back to many old observations and put in Urtica gracilis or Urtica gracilis ssp. gracilis on old nettle observations. That means at least for these old observations, they're not showing the Introduced flag.

Αναρτήθηκε από gordonhogenson 10 μήνες πριν

No doubt many no longer show the introduced flag, but this goes together with future observations of "Urtica dioica" in North America being called "introduced", and they won't be changing most of the 23,000 old observations, and they will still show as "introduced".

Αναρτήθηκε από stewartwechsler 10 μήνες πριν

The introduced flag only shows up if U. dioca sticks as the ID. It would only take two dedicated identifiers to watch for any new observations put in as Urtica dioca and we could quickly move these to U.gracilis gracilis, but only if we both agreed that was appropriate. It would not solve the discrepancy between other insitutions, web sites, and journals using the U. dioca name, but it would at last not leave observations with the introduced flag sitting there for any length of time.

Αναρτήθηκε από gordonhogenson 10 μήνες πριν

It isn't worth trying to change them all. We have to change iNaturalist, and get them to remove the "introduced" flag from "Urtica dioica".

Αναρτήθηκε από stewartwechsler 10 μήνες πριν

All right, let's see what happens. I'll keep watching this issue, and if you need help, I'll certainly listen and see if I can add a voice to this when needed.

Αναρτήθηκε από gordonhogenson 10 μήνες πριν

Thank you Gordon.

Αναρτήθηκε από stewartwechsler 10 μήνες πριν

Well said.

Αναρτήθηκε από warrenlayberry 10 μήνες πριν

Thank you Warren!

Αναρτήθηκε από stewartwechsler 10 μήνες πριν

It's true. Taxonomy in general has become a giant nightmare not only on iNat but in the field as a whole. I made this post about it... https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/charlie/68030-my-take-on-taxonomy
this will only get worse across the board. iNat had a chance to be kind of subversively progressive and keep taxonomy in the hands of most users rather than a few activist splitters, but they chose not to.

Αναρτήθηκε από charlie 10 μήνες πριν

Thanks Charlie!

Αναρτήθηκε από stewartwechsler 10 μήνες πριν

Thank you for setting out the issues with this taxon swap so clearly. I have been very frustrated by iNat's decisions about taxa name changes many times, and this one in particular illustrates the depths of consequences of allowing splitters free run.

Αναρτήθηκε από ksayce 10 μήνες πριν

Thank you @ksayce ! I feel I stick my neck out when I am a critic of the status quo, so I appreciate the support!

Αναρτήθηκε από stewartwechsler 10 μήνες πριν

Well said! I appreciate you speaking up on this.

This specifically stuck out to me, " The constant changing of taxon names comes at a great cost, in that it undermines the purpose of scientific names, to have one name for each taxon that everyone in the world can use. We now have different people using different scientific names for this taxon, either because they are following a different taxonomic authority, because they didn't agree with the new name, hadn't learned the new name, or didn't know the old name."

Taxon name changes create additional barriers to entry to a field that is already rife with gatekeeping.

Αναρτήθηκε από leshell 9 μήνες πριν

Thank you @leshell !

Αναρτήθηκε από stewartwechsler 9 μήνες πριν

I agree @leshell !

Αναρτήθηκε από charlie 9 μήνες πριν

This is confusing for the reasons you state. Also, when groups of populations are members of one clade and each other's closest relatives (as I assume is true for U. dioica s.str., U. gracilis var. gracilis, and U. gracilis var. holosericea), the decision to call those groups species, subtaxa,or unnamed variants is arbitrary. It's a matter of human choices. Biology does not compel one choice or the other. We could have stayed with the previous classification. However, I suspect we're stuck with it on iNaturalist, at least for now.

Αναρτήθηκε από sedgequeen 6 μήνες πριν

Thank you @sedgequeen .

Αναρτήθηκε από stewartwechsler 6 μήνες πριν

I added a comment today to the "Flag" on Urtica dioica, regarding someone saying the species needs to be split. If you are interested in this issue, you may want to read it, and might want to add your comments:
https://www.inaturalist.org/flags/559292

Αναρτήθηκε από stewartwechsler 3 μήνες πριν

About a year ago I suggested in the flag that you bring this up with POWO. Have you bothered to do so? Why or why not?

It's not very helpful to grouse about iNaturalist's taxonomic system when all we really do is just follow POWO. This is the policy of the site. It's like berating a local judge for a law you don't like instead of going to the legislator. Funnel this energy into a productive conversation with the actual decision makers.

My suspicion is that they will agree with the summary in Weakley's Flora, "The combination of morphological distinctiveness, allopatry, major differences in species biology, and incompatibility warrants separation as species." [emphasis mine - they don't even cross!]

https://fsus.ncbg.unc.edu/main.php?pg=show-taxon-detail.php&taxonid=3325

Please share the results!

Αναρτήθηκε από ddennism 3 μήνες πριν

@ddennison My main issue is that iNaturalist took all of the observations Stinging Nettles, 99% of which are almost surely native Stinging Nettles, and marked them as not native with their red asterisk. If you can get them to remove the red asterisk in North American observations of Stinging Nettles, I would stop complaining about their changing the name in following POWO taxonomy. I doubt POWO will change their taxonomy to protect North American Stinging Nettles from being called "not native".

Αναρτήθηκε από stewartwechsler 3 μήνες πριν

While i don't agree with splitting overall in most cases, from what i have seen these seem more distinct than most splits. I still wouldn't split it if it were my choice, but i think we really do need to get that non-native tag removed because if they are split people are going to be identifying things as U. dioica for years if they use any field guide or key from the past. I think a reasonable move either way is to get rid of that tag. But i don't have the ability to do it since i'm not a curator any more

Αναρτήθηκε από charlie 3 μήνες πριν

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