Taxonomic Swap 10568 (Committed on 2015-02-24)

Contributions to a history of New Zea... (Citation)
Added by stephen_thorpe on February 24, 2015 19:51 | Committed by stephen_thorpe on February 24, 2015
replaced with


Stephen, what's your source for this change? Please make sure you cite all your taxon changes, and that they follow our stated authorities for the group you're working in. Right now that's Index/Species Fungorum, which don't have any record of a "Yarrumia colensoi." We could theoretically switch to something like Galloway for NZ lichens, but I don't think he supports that name either. We do not track the primary literature, or at least we try not to.

Posted by kueda over 7 years ago (Flag)

I already put the source here:

Although it is primary literature, the community (at least on NatureWatch NZ) wants to be more up-to-date with name changes than reliance on merely secondary sources allows

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

Regardless, you should cite your sources in each taxon change, so when people receive updates about them they check out the source of the change. Otherwise, the change is just because you said so.

Furthermore, this illustrates a number of reasons why we track secondary sources and not the primary literature. First, tracking the primary literature makes it almost impossible for sites like NatureWatch and iNat to integrate with other organizations interested in using our data. If someone comes along and wants to use all our NZ lichen observations they ask, "What taxonomy do you use?" we have to reply that we use our own based on the primary literature. If they use NZOR (which does not support Yarrumia colensoi at present), they won't know what to do with our Yarrumia colensoi records. Tracking secondary sources also helps slow the rate of taxonomic change, which makes it easier for taxonomy to serve the important function of facilitating communication between people interested in these organisms. If the names change every year (or every month), communication starts to become impossible.

Second, not everyone may agree with the work presented in Galloway's monograph that you cited in that listed taxon. As I'm sure you're aware, there are a lot of journals out there and some are more reputable than others. Galloway and Phytotaxa are bad examples here b/c they are reputable sources, but imagine this was a taxon change created by someone else citing a paper in some journal you'd never heard of that proposed to change Yarrumia colensoi to Absurdia colensoi. How do you vet the source? How do you determine if the authors and the journal are trustworthy? It's much easier to reduce the number of sources that must be trusted by relying on secondary sources.

Third, the paper you cited is closed access. It would take the purchase of US$1400.00 subscription to actually read the paper, which I have to imagine is beyond the means of almost all NatureWatch and iNat users, most of whom have no affiliation with an institution that might have a subscription and would be unwilling to pay that much just to access a single paper. Online secondary sources of taxonomic opinions like Species Fungorum or NZOR are almost always free and openly accessible. Tracking them allows all of us who use this website to follow the source of a change to an external source we can actually see.

Finally, while the community helps manage our taxonomy, they do not make decisions about how we do so. We (the site admins, including the NatureWatch site admins) have a set of policies and taxonomic authorities and we expect you guys to follow them. We are open to suggestions on changing those authorities, including establishing regional authorities, but we do not want to track the primary literature if there are secondary sources we can refer to (sometimes there aren't, e.g. for terrestrial mollusks).

Since I suspect Species Fungorum will pick up Galloway's reassignment eventually (maybe you could talk to Jerry Cooper about this), why don't we leave this one in, but in the future, please a) always cite your sources, and b) follow the taxonomic authorities we've described at

Posted by kueda over 7 years ago (Flag)

What's with the overly long spiel? A bit more two way discussion was appropriate first. Three points in response:

(1) I did try to put the source in the source field of the taxon merge, but it wouldn't work. It is not really my fault if the site doesn't function properly;

(2) Since it is a taxon merge, the old names are still in the system and presumably redirect to the new names. So, if "someone comes along" wanting to use the data here, there shouldn't actually be a problem as the new names are linked to the old names;

(3) Secondary sources hardly ever, if at all, do any quality evaluation of the taxonomy. There isn't the time or the resources. If something is published in a peer review journal, then they just accept it (unless the person in charge of the secondary source has their own agenda), until a new peer reviewed publication rejects it. However, most secondary sources (including NZOR) are many years out-of-date even just indexing the primary literature. The community here does not want to be held back by secondary source delays. With only one or two exceptions, any peer reviewed journal and/or author is just as "reputable" as any other. We should not be trying to make misguided judgement calls of that nature.

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

The long spiel was an attempt to make our policies and the reasons for those policies as clear as I could. Apologies if that meant being verbose, but I couldn't see a shorter way to express myself.

(1) Totally right. However, we would appreciate some notification when you find things that don't work so we can fix them. You can also always just describe your source in the description.

(2) People trying to use the data on iNat can certainly see the taxonomic history, but that wasn't the use case I was describing. I was trying to describe a situation in which someone receives our data outside of iNat. For example, let's say someone wants to go to GBIF to download occurrences of Pseudocyphellaria colensoi. That could include a bunch of useful iNat records, but GBIF doesn't preserve our taxonomic history and list of synonyms, so they would miss all our records of Yarrumia colensoi. This problem is pretty much intrinsic to taxonomy and somewhat beyond the scope of iNat, but we can go a little way toward mitigating it by sticking to authorities that don't change as frequently as the primary literature.

(3) I agree that we shouldn't be trying to make judgement calls, which is exactly why we prefer to cite secondary sources, because it minimizes the amount of judgement calls we need to make, i.e. we only have to decide on a handful of authorities instead of hundreds of journals or tens of thousands of authors. I appreciate your point about the fact that authorities aren't always perfectly up-to-date, but frankly that's one of their advantages from our perspective for that taxonomic churn reason I mentioned. The faster names change, the less utility they have for communication. And frankly, some authorities do make decisions regarding quality. For example, AmphibiaWeb attempts to be a global authority on amphibian taxonomy (among other things), but they do not support a very controversial split of an American frog species: The split was published, but they don't think the work was very good. SSAR (the authority we follow for North American herps), does support the split.

Also, can you point me toward some discussions where the NatureWatch community has discussed wanting to track the primary literature? I mostly only here from people on the NatureWatch board and they haven't brought that up to me.

Posted by kueda over 7 years ago (Flag)

(1) I tried to put the source in any way I could, but it did not work;

(2) That would be GBIF's problem. Misuse of data from here should not hold us back;

(3) My point was that, MOSTLY, secondary sources uncritically accept the primary literature, but do so very slowly (often many years out-of-date). We have an opportunity to do better, so we should not squander that opportunity lightly;

I have been requested on a number of occasions by other NatureWatch NZ users (e.g. Steve Kerr), to update names.

I don't see a problem here, except that it may be a problem that you see a problem where there is none. I am not changing CONTROVERSIAL names from one option to another. I am merely keeping up with new knowledge, to enable the community to make better identifications. I really do hope that you are not one of these hotheads who dig in and try to retard progress because they feel threatened in some way. There is no problem here.

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

Hi to you both,

This is an interesting thread.

Stephen, when we talked with Ken-ichi and Scott Loarie about integrating NatureWatch NZ into iNaturalist, Ken-ichi made it clear that their policy on taxonomic updates was more cautious than ours had been.

As you know, NatureWatch NZ had been including tag names (e.g., Brian Patrick's take on NZ Lycaena, and widely used plant cultivar names). We also made updates that NZOR was lagging on (e.g., NZ geckos). Plus, we were implementing some prominent name changes as soon as they were published (e.g., Kunzea, Nothofagus).

iNaturalist instead attempts to restrict its nomenclature sources to a manageable number of well-regarded and publicly available secondary sources, to keep itself out of taxonomic debates.

We (the NZ Bio-Recording Network board, the charitable trust funding NatureWatch NZ) accepted iNaturalist's position on this when we agreed to the integration. Perhaps we could have been able to manage these changes on a NZ scale, although we would much prefer not to if NZOR could stay up-to-date. Still, doing so on a global scale is daunting. Ken-ichi and Scott convinced us that this really should be the role of taxonomic systems, not iNaturalist. And we didn't want our changes to NZ taxa to mess up their global iNat tree.

So we've moved NatureWatch NZ tag names and cultivars off the taxonomic tree and into extra fields, and we're playing by iNat's rules. This also means following the Clements Checklist for birds, produced by Cornell University's lab of ornithology, even where it contradicts the current NZ bird names list. (NZ's eBird had to make the same compromise.)

As part of iNat, we're going to have to run one pace behind and do our best to pressure systems like the NZ plant names database, NZ Fungi, etc., to keep themselves up-to-date. And, when they don't, only jump ahead of them when absolutely necessary.

Regardless, I see the integration has been of huge net benefit to NatureWatch NZ. Through a combination of extra fields and adding synonyms, I've been comfortable enough with things so far.

In this lichen example, the approach would be to keep Pseudocyphellaria colensoi as the main taxon name (until the change gets pulled into one of iNaturalist's main secondary sources), but you can still add Yarrumia colensoi as a currently valid "synonym" on the species page so it will come up in searches.



Posted by jon_sullivan over 7 years ago (Flag)

And, damn it, my comment is long too!

Posted by jon_sullivan over 7 years ago (Flag)

Some comments:

(1) For terrestrial inverts, NZOR is currently about 5 years out of date, and there is no sign of a substantial update pending any time soon. That is unacceptable as a basis for NatureWatch NZ;

(2) I am going to continue to add new species as they are described. This is different to a "name change". I don't see any reason not to add new species names;

(3) One potential problem though is when a new genus is described with some new species, and some recombinations of existing species. If I follow your comments above, this leads to chaos! What if there had been a new species of Yarrumia, for example?

(4) I think you ought to have consulted more widely before agreeing to iNat rules. Several of us would not have agreed to this;

(5) being held back by lazy secondary sources is a very bad thing, IMHO;

(6) I will be more careful to explicitly state my sources wherever possible, but I cannot agree to not updating the NZ section of the database with uncontroversial changes as they arise.



Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

PS: I am now trying to go back to see if I can add sources to some new names, but when I click edit on a taxon page, "the wheel just keeps turning" and it isn't working ...

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

PS2: The fact that the paper I cited is closed access is a non sequitur. I have access to it. We should definitely NOT rely on secondary sources to get thing right, and they frequently don't (I know how NZOR was compiled, and very little of it was verified for insects). You are placing your trust in the wrong people (i.e., those who do as little work as possible for as much money as possible). If push comes to shove, I will stand up and defend myself as a more reliable source than NZOR.

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

I am not a professional, but I agree with you that the latest accepted nomenclature should go up ASAP whenever accepted by qualified systematists in the field.

Posted by steve_kerr over 7 years ago (Flag)

Just to clarify, Steve, I assume you would include by default anything that has gone through normal peer review where the author(s) is/are a qualified systematist(s) in the field? This is pretty much everything, bar Raymond Hoser and a mere handful of other cranks. You are a professional, Steve, just not in taxonomy. In your field, do you ignore anything published until it has been evaluated by some secondary authority?? I think not ...

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

Yes. For example, Cor Vink put me onto Platnick's World Spider Catalog and urged me to check there for current accepted nomenclature. Likewise for Evinhuis' Catalog of the Diptera of the Australasian and Oceanian Regions, etc.

Posted by steve_kerr over 7 years ago (Flag)

Your comments are a bit unclear to me, Steve. WSC and the Diptera Catalog are secondary sources. They just index the primary literature. So, for example, if Evenhuis himself publishes a paper today in Zootaxa, should we:

(1) Add the nomenclatural changes to NatureWatch today; or

(2) wait until the names are added to Evenhuis' online Diptera catalogue (which might be updated yearly or something).

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

Ahhh ... I assumed the catalogs were in some way "peer-reviewed". If a name change appears in a peer-reviewed publication, the I think it should be accepted by NatureWatch ASAP whether it's been added to a catalog or not. Peer review is the key. In my field (Neuropharmacology), once a paper is peer-reviewed and in press, then it's considered fact.

Posted by steve_kerr over 7 years ago (Flag)

Yes, I agree (well maybe not "fact" exactly, but sort of "fact by default"). The reality is that many secondary sources (online databases) sell themselves as in some way "peer reviewed" (on top of the peer review for the primary publications), but this is a bit of a con. Too many publications are coming out too quickly for anything other than "accept by default" to be going on.

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

PS: FYI, all these online biodiversity databases (GBIF, EOL, NZOR, etc.) are an industry which has sprung up in recent years. Their primary purpose is to keep people employed, doing tasks whose progress is easily quantified and reported back to funders. They mostly just keep track of the primary literature, but with a massive time lag. As I said, any pretence of "quality control" is largely just that, a pretence.

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

Hi again,

This is all good stuff*. Where a frequently updated catalogue exists (like the NZ Plant Names Database, or NZ Fungi), it makes sense to let them do the hard work of digesting the primary literature and we follow them. But it's a good point about what to do with a new species described within a recent genus revision that hasn't been picked up by a catalogue. If we had to wait 5 years for a new NZ insect species to be picked up by NZOR via NZAC, that would clearly be unacceptable (and unnecessary).

Stephen, if the current primary literature was followed in these cases, how would you recommend that we deal with disputes? From what Colin Meurk tells me, people are waiting to see what happens with the Yarrumia versus Pseudocyphellaria debate, before committing. It's not something that NatureWatch NZ and iNat need to jump into straight away. Waiting a while seems prudent (although not waiting five years for it to show up in an underfunded secondary names catalogue, if that were the case).

The bird example that showed up recently was the Stewart Island shag, which Clements' Bird List calls Phalacrocorax chalconotus and NZ birders (and the pre-integration NatureWatch NZ) call Leucocarbo chalconotus. In this case, a recent molecular paper shows Leucocarbo to be a well supported clade within Phalacrocorax and deserving of genus rank, but agreement needs to be reached amongst birders. iNaturalist needs to go with one tree, so they side-step this debate and go with Clements and wait for it to catch up (if Leucocarbo becomes the consensus). A few of us had a good discussion about this at the time.

Defaulting to the standard global catalogue of bird names is a sensible rule in this case, as iNat cannot operate parallel regional trees. We have to follow the global consensus on these things. So where is the best place to reach that consensus? Ken-ichi and Scott don't see iNat as the place to sort all this out, which makes sense.

Is that something that Wikispecies does better?



except for the bit about these catalogues exisiting to keep people employed. There must be better ways to employ people! These catalogues can also be very handy things. From what I see, these systems get created by a few people with passion and committment but some then limp along when they cannot sustain their funding. You can make an argument that open-source crowd-sourcing systems are more appropriate for these kinds of big, diffuse, long-term problems, but I certainly don't think that the motivation for creating these systems is employing people.

Posted by jon_sullivan over 7 years ago (Flag)

The likes of GBIF and CoL (and NZOR) are certainly motivated by employing people. They uncritically aggregate data from wherever they can get it, usually by automated means (and errors are thus not even noticed by a human*). I really don't understand "the problem", as expressed by you above. The notion of "waiting to see what happens" is dust in the wind. How long to wait? Whose decision is final? Whose decision trumps that of another group? This just isn't the way to think about this stuff. If something goes through peer review and is published, then it is by default accepted, until such time, if ever, that someone else publishes a refutation (and even then, the issue may be unresolved). The important thing is that we cite sources and have all alternative names in the database. I notice that someone has changed Nothofagus here, in accordance with the recent paper by Heenan & Smissen, even though the reasons against their proposal vastly outweigh the reasons for it! Nobody "waited to see". But that is OK. We must do this consistently though. Taxonomy is inherently subjective. There are no "committees" to decide who is right (OK, there are some, but their authority is self-appointed, and they are not free of "politics"). Again, the important thing is that we cite sources and have all alternative names in the database. If we don't add new names and changes asap, then the down side of missing out on what will be mostly good and useful data outweighs any upsides from maintaining stability. For most inverts, there is very little if any disagreement at the level of genus and species anyway. Most species get described or revised and that is the only publication dealing with them, so there is very little risk of much instability.

Example: NZIB was automatically scanned for NZOR, and there was an OCR error which overlooked the heading 'Miridae'. The result was that the whole N.Z. fauna of mirids got put into the Cimicidae, which only actually has one introduced species! I had to point it out to them!

PS: I must reiterate that I am in no shape or form tinkering with names in controversial cases to fit my preferences. If I was doing that, Nothofagus would be the first to make a return.

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

Interesting conversation. I also prefer that more energy on iNat is spent observing and identifying nature and less on discussing taxonomic issues. Thats why I agree that using secondary sources whenever possible is a good practice because it funnels these conversations and any political pressure to these secondary groups to address the primary literature rather than reinventing the wheel on the iNat.

As an example, Nicholas et al proposed splitting the lizard genus Anolis into 8 genera in a primary zootaxa publication

There was a large backlash against this split which resulted in several other publications and ultimately secondary sources like the Reptile Database deciding not to go with this split. But this primary paper is still out there in the literature.

By using the Reptile Database as a secondary source, we have a way to excuse our selves from fighting these same Anolis vs Norops battles again here. This means (1) we can focus the ink on iNat to conversations about the organisms themselves, not their taxonomies which is complementary, valuable, and something we do well here. And (2) those of us inclined to enter the taxonomy debate can add our critical mass to conversations already occurring in places like the secondary sources (e.g. Reptile Database), the primary literature (e.g. the Castañeda and de Queiroz critique to Nicholas et al) or specific taxonomic communities (e.g.

That's why I'm lending my support for a policy of going with Index Fungorum in this case!

Posted by loarie over 7 years ago (Flag)

Yes, but the fallacy here is making too much out of the very few (less than1%) problematic cases (e.g. Anolis), and missing out on the greater than 99% unproblematic cases. Index Fungorum just hasn't caught up yet with Yarrumia. We are ahead of the game. That is a GOOD THING. Why would they suddenly start to reject the work of the late Galloway on N.Z. lichens? They wouldn't. There is no problem here, so why all the fuss?

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

Besides, although there does exist reasonable secondary sources for fungi, plants, reptiles, etc., there is nothing for most terrestrial inverts.

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

I totally accept that when it comes to groups like fungi and almost all insects, there is little community consensus and secondary authorities do little more than track the literature, so maybe we should just choose to not track authorities for fungi and insects, perhaps with some exceptions in some areas like North American butterflies, where there are authorities. Would that be satisfactory, Stephen? We are not going to change our policy for groups that do have well-established authorities. We're happy to debate the legitimacy of the authorities, but please, let's have that debate before ignoring our existing policies.

Posted by kueda over 7 years ago (Flag)

Firstly, I didn't knowingly ignore any existing policies, I just used my initiative to add useful content to the project. Secondly, I don't understand what you mean by "choose to not track authorities for fungi and insects". What do you mean by "authorities" and what do you mean by "track them"? In taxonomy, authorities are the name of the describer, e.g. Linnaeus in Homo sapiens Linnaeus, 1758. Are you talking about secondary sources? Please clarify.

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

Sorry, I meant following secondary taxonomic authorities, e.g. Species Fungorum, NZOR, etc. Our policies about the secondary taxonomic authorities are laid out at What we could do is just declare that for fungi we should not try to follow the names and classifications used in Species Fungorum (as I think you're suggesting) and instead acknowledge that there is no consensus about fungal taxonomy beyond the primary literature and thus choose to base our taxonomy changes based on the primary literature. Would that work for you, provided that we continue to respect our stated taxonomic authorities for groups where such authorities exist?

I'll try and look into the bug you were having with actually adding the sources (agh, irony!).

Posted by kueda over 7 years ago (Flag)

Well, I'm not really suggesting that we don't follow Index Fungorum. It is a relatively good secondary source, but since all it really does is to index the primary literature, there is no problem if we are one step ahead of it in a few cases (e.g. Yarrumia). The only problem is the time lag. It might not catch up with Yarrumia until next year or something. Why should we wait? However, NZOR, CoL, and GBIF are fundamentally flawed as secondary sources (except that CoL and GBIF are actually TERTIARY sources, harvesting data from secondary sources, but with a bigger time lag, so more out of date). NZOR is a good example of a fundamentally flawed secondary source. Most of the insect data is unverified, and full of OCR errors, etc. So, it would be foolish of us to uncritically follow NZOR. Therefore, I can see myself devoting a fair amount of time here to keeping the N.Z. biota updated, verified and corrected, following primary sources, which is all that NZOR really tries to do anyway (except that, because of their political links, they would opt for the Nothofagus split, for example, in order to support their colleagues, rather than for any objective scientific reasons). In summary, all that I can really say is trust me, I know what I am doing.

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

What I want to know at this point is whether we can agree to make it our official policy to ditch Species Fungorum as our taxonomic authority for fungi globally in favor tracking the primary literature. We're not talking about whether or not it's a good source of names, rather we're debating whether it should be the only source of current names and classifications. I'm hearing an implied "yes" from you, Stephen, but I'd like an explicit "yes," as well as opinions from others.

Posted by kueda over 7 years ago (Flag)

What you are asking seems like an all or nothing choice, when I see it somewhat differently. To the question 'Should Species Fungorum be used as our only source of fungal names?' I would answer no. But it still should be used as our default source of fungal names, and we can add in a few new names here and there before Species Fungorum adds them. I don't see this is a major issue. However, we need to consider each secondary source on its own merits. I would happily stick 100% to Species Fungorum, rather than have to follow NZOR for insects. In the case of NZOR, we could easily have to wait a decade for names to come through, and a not insignificant proportion of those would be error ridden! I think we need to use our judgement on a case by case basis. As I said already, when you consider the totality, there are really very few cases of taxonomic disagreement (i.e. multiple choices of names for the same taxa), except for higher classification, but this discussion so far hasn't really made the important distinction between higher taxa (notoriously unstable and controversial) vs. standard alpha taxonomy (90+ % stable and uncontroversial overall). So, I'm not really talking about whose classification we should be using. I am concerned only with taxonomy at the lower levels (mostly genus and species).

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

I'm hearing ''Should Species Fungorum be used as our only source of fungal names?' I would answer no.' as an explicit yes to 'make it our official policy to ditch Species Fungorum as our taxonomic authority for fungi globally in favor tracking the primary literature' from stephen. I'm fine with that (but have very understanding of/vested interest in Fungi taxonomy) -make it so in !

Posted by loarie over 7 years ago (Flag)

Would like to get some input from Jon and others on the NatureWatch board as well when they get a chance to check this out.

Posted by kueda over 7 years ago (Flag)

Just to be clear, we should have a pecking order of sources (at least for inverts and fungi). From highest to lowest:

(1) Primary literature;

(2) Secondary sources.

The important point is that we should still import all the names automatically from the secondary sources, but not treat them as "final". We need to add and/or correct as necessary.

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

Right, we're not proposing getting rid of importing taxonomic data from CoL, uBio, and NZOR. We're just trying to agree on whether or not there should be a global taxonomic authority for these groups beyond the primary literature.

Posted by kueda over 7 years ago (Flag)

That seems a strange way to word it. We are trying to decide whether or not we can add to and/or correct our secondary sources where necessary. Calling secondary sources "authorities" is somewhat of a misnomer, at least for many of them. They are just tracking the primary literature, which we can do just as effectively for ourselves. I really think it is a nobrainer to say "yes, we can add to/correct secondary sources". The alternative is to be out-of-date and to repeat their mistakes. The few controversial cases may be a little problematic, but the "solution" whereby we simply follow a nominated secondary source is unsatisfactory, at least because (1) it is pretty arbitrary which way the secondary source will go; and (2) we inherit the mistakes made by the secondary source; and (3) we have to wait for the secondary source to acquire new names, which could take years.

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

Hi all,

I've been swamped with lectures and labs today and am only now catching up with this conversation.

Ken-ichi's suggested solution is a fair one and I support it. From my reading of this, it sounds like we're more-or-less on the same page now:

1) For fungi and terrestrial invertebrates (aside from North American butterflies), we recommend that, when necessary, curators track the primary literature for the groups they are most knowledgable about. Proper citation of these sources is essential.

2) We also acknowledge that the big secondary sources, while many lag behind the primary literature, still represent a useful way for iNat users to import in taxonomic data. The curators can update these imported taxa when necessary.

3) When there are well maintained catalogues being kept up-to-date and thoroughly debated by a reputable team of experts (such as exist for birds, herps, etc.), it makes sense for us to contribute to that work there and not on iNaturalist.

I'm happy enough to following the NZ Plant Names Database (which intermittently feeds into NZOR), since the botanists at Landcare Research who maintain it have a good track record of reviewing proposed changes and being prompt in the adoption of changes they agree with (perhaps too promptly for some in the case of Nothofagus). If they're slow to incorporate a particular change I care about, I'm happy to first get their opinions about a published change, and hopefully see that change added to the NZ Plant Names database, rather than add it straight away to NatureWatch NZ.

I'm with Scott when he says that iNat, NatureWatch NZ, NaturaLista, etc., are primarily about identifying and observing species. The label on the species is of secondary importance, and we don't want to get sucked into these debates. I really don't much mind if someone calls a tree Nothofagus menziesii or Lophozonia menziesii. What I care about is that we get lots of correctly identified observations of it, and that searches on either species name give me all the observations of this taxon.

When a new species is described in a peer-reviewed reputable source, I don't mind if one of our curators adds it when they, or someone they know, has observations to add of that species. That is, except when this involves higher level taxonomic changes and the taxa included are from a group where we've elected to track a well-reviewed secondary source (e.g., Clements bird list). These cases will be the minority of new species additions.

When mergers and splits are involved, this all gets much hairier and we need to tread carefully. Since most of our curators are not trained taxonomists, we do need to be careful that people don't rush into changes without consulting expert taxonomists. Stephen has the background to do this, but many (most?) of our curators likely don't. We want our curator guidelines to be such that things don't get broken, or flipped back and forth. With this in mind, perhaps our curator guidelines should be more conservative than what we accept is useful work done by the expert taxonomists amongst our curators.

Do we all agree with that? I'll send this around the rest of the NatureWatch NZ board for comment.



Posted by jon_sullivan over 7 years ago (Flag)

Hi all - have almost exhausted myself catching up on that thread. I've learnt something tho about the arcane world of biosystematics. it is definitely not my field. i'm a user! Jon is buried in a horrendous teaching load at present. Our taxonomic expert Jerry (also been snowed under in meetings today) might chime in, but i know that he fundamentally supports Stephen in his observations about the state of NZOR and the currency of its nomenclature (especially for fungi and invertebrates). The most logical approach would have been to sort out the taxonomies through NZOR (in the case of NZ) or global equivalents, but it seems that is problematic (for now)* and so by default the task falls (uncomfortably) to iNaturalist/NatureWatch NZ. Yes, I tend to agree that taxonomy is a tool/method/language for the core (natural history observing and reporting) purpose of iNaturalist, but we cannot escape the need/desire for the best current taxonomy. And all communities are diverse and seek different thrills. some seek pefection in photo images, some interested in phenology, distributions, learning species, accumulating life lists, monitoring, leaderboard competition and some (fortunately) are endeavouring to perfect the taxonomy so that the rest of us can sleep easy knowing someone is taking care of that. there do need to be some rules of engagement in all this complexity, and rules by definition will never suit everyone equally and sometimes a little compromise is needed so that we can move on and enjoy the overwhelmingly great opportunity presented by iNaturalist and its descendents; but i'm encouraged to see this lengthy debate (on issues dear to several hearts) carried out in a generally good spirit. and compromise now isn't set in concrete - rules evolve. it is an interim breathing space and opportunity to test ideas before everyone fully commits to them. some people are inevitably more cautious, and when running a big system, that hundreds of thousands now depend on, i can understand there is a need for a bit of conservatism even tho most of us would not regard ourselves in that way :-). so this is a late night ramble, and doesn't offer any specific action; but i think Jon is coming up with something so i look forward to seeing that soon. i trust it will be clear (based on all the views and evidence presented to date) and satisfy everyone in most cases. and remember everything is interim ! :-) c
*I thought one could submit proposed changes to NZOR but couldn't find the path when i last tried to find it - and it seems noone is in there listening at the moment!

Posted by meurkc over 7 years ago (Flag)

Just a comment regarding Colin's last sentence above, regarding NZOR. I reported (to Trevor) the fact that all the mirids were erroneously under Cimicidae nearly 2 years ago. He passed it on to NZOR, and he was the one who explained the error to me in terms of OCR missing the heading 'Miridae'. And yet, NZOR has not corrected it (yet?)!! Check out the subordinate taxa of Cimicidae here ( There should only be the genus Cimex! Nobody at NZOR is listening, and nobody is doing anything either! No wonder Penman was made redundant from LCR, if this is his idea of "good management"!

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

Ok, since it sounds like we've reached consensus here, I've updated our policies and tried to add more details on how and when we follow external authorities:

The most salient change is that for fungi we are no longer trying to track what Species Fungorum says is current, or at least it is no longer considered the final authority about what names we should and should not be using. Primary literature citations for taxon changes to fungal taxonomy are ok.

Posted by kueda over 7 years ago (Flag)

All good

Posted by stephen_thorpe over 7 years ago (Flag)

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