Section B. How to respond to a flag requesting to change the name of a taxon

Modified on Wed, 23 Nov 2022 at 02:42 PM

Table of Contents

These requests are often worded like “Gonimbrasia petiveri is now a synonym of Nudaurelia petiveri”. These requests will generally result in making a Taxon Swap with an existing iNat taxon (e.g. Gonimbrasia petiveri) as the input taxon and a separate taxon (e.g. Nudaurelia petiveri) as the output.


Step 1: Make sure the input taxon is an active taxon

For example, for a flag asking to change the name from Tibouchina ursina to Pleroma ursinum, check to make sure Tibouchina ursina exists as an active taxon.

If it doesn’t, comment and resolve the flag


Step 2: Determine whether input and output taxa are covered by a taxon framework

To do this navigate to the input taxon and click “Taxonomy Details”. If it says “Not covered by any taxon framework”, skip ahead to Step 4

If it says “Covered by a taxon framework for XXX”, then proceed to Step 3



Step 3: If covered by a taxon framework, check the framework

Check the taxon framework to confirm the input taxon is or is not valid according to the taxon framework. If the taxon framework has a source (see A. Step 4b), this will involve checking the taxon framework relationship, which should say “Relationship: Unknown”, meaning the input taxon is not an active taxon in the source (“Relationship: Match” would mean the input taxon is an active taxon in the source), but please directly check the source (e.g. Plants of the World Online) to confirm that the input taxon is not a valid taxon as the taxon framework relationships may be out of sync.



If the taxon framework doesn’t have a source, check any linked materials in the taxon framework description.


After checking the taxon framework, if the input taxon is a valid taxon according to the taxon framework, then the requested change should not be made. Instead, add a comment to the flag and resolve it.




Now check to make sure the output taxon is a valid taxon in the reference. If it is not, add a comment to the flag and resolve it.


If the input taxon is not a valid taxon according to the taxon framework and the output taxon is, then proceed to Step 4.


Step 4: Create a draft taxon swap

From the taxon page, click on “Taxon Changes” -> “New Taxon Change”. (You can also edit the taxon and select the "taxon swap" button, or create a change from scratch here.) Add the input and output taxa. Add a source if possible, and link to the relevant flag in the Description. If the output taxon doesn’t exist, click the "Create a Taxon" link to create the taxon (see A. Step 4). Save the draft taxon change.



A note about merges: A merge is simply a swap that involves more than one input taxon being swapped to the output taxon.


Merges may be requested in the same way as swaps. (Sometimes in the course of setting up a swap it will become clear that there is actually more than one synonym masquerading as a valid taxon that needs to be swapped to the output taxon. If that is the case, it can be more efficient to cancel the swap, and instead draft a merge that includes all of the input taxa.)


You start the process as you would for a swap for any one of the incorrect input taxa. From the New Taxonomic Change (Draft) page, instead of leaving the default as Swap, instead choose Merge. Then proceed as you would with a swap, but when Merge is chosen, you will have the option under Input Taxon to choose to Add a Taxon in addition to the automatically chosen input taxon name. You can then add the other synonyms in need of swapping. Once all of the synonyms have been added, you will proceed as you would for a normal one-to-one swap. 


Step 5: Check for unintended disagreements

Before committing the swap, check the draft taxon swap page to see whether the “Analyze Unintended Disagreements” notice appears.


If it does, analyze the unintended disagreements. If additional taxon changes are recommended, then after committing, proceed to Section D on splitting a taxon.


Step 6: If covered by a taxon framework with a source, check for deviations

If the taxon change involves taxa covered by a taxon framework with a source, you’ll see Relationship labels beneath the input and output taxa. If the taxon framework relationships are in sync and you are curating in the direction of the source, the input taxon should have “Relationship: Unknown”. 

Make sure the input taxon does not have “Relationship: Deviation”; this indicates the community is intentionally not curating in the direction of the taxon framework source. If this is the case, do not commit the swap without following up in flags with whoever created the deviation.


Likewise, if the taxon framework relationships are in sync, the input taxon should not have a “Relationship: Match”.


Step 7: Committing a taxon swap

Commit the taxon swap; if the input taxon has active descendants, you won’t be able to commit the swap and will have to deal with them first. 


If it’s a genus change, there is guidance from a taxon framework on how to handle descendant species and subspecies whose names might be impacted. Ask for more information on the flag.



You could edit the taxon change and check "Move children", but using “Move children” is not recommended unless you absolutely understand what it will do. (see Tip 1 below) ‘Move children’ does not know how to change the names of child taxa associated with genus changes (e.g. Species X moving to Genus Y) or gender issues. We recommend you rather start with the furthest downstream descendants and work your way upstream creating separate swaps for all active descendants until the input taxon no longer has active descendants that have incongruent spellings between the input and output taxa.


After committing the taxon swap, comment on the flag with a link to the swap, and resolve it.




Tip 1: Understanding “Move children”

Checking “Move children” on a taxon swap can save a lot of time if you understand exactly what it will do. But it can be very destructive if you don’t, so please read this before using it. 


If the active children of the input taxon are not species or subspecies, checking “Move children” will simply automatically move them over to the output taxon. For example, if you had Family X with child Genus Y swapped with Family Z, then “Move children” will move Genus Y from Family X to Family Z before inactivating Family X.


If the active children of the input taxon are species or subspecies, checking “Move children” will create additional swaps. For example, imagine this tree:

  • Genus Hesperibalanus
    • Species Hesperibalanus hesperius
      • Subspecies Hesperibalanus hesperius hesperius
      • Subspecies Hesperibalanus hesperius laevidomus

Swapping Genus Hesperibalanus with Genus Solidobalanus with “Move children” checked


Will also create the following swaps

These swaps will use existing output taxa if they exist as active taxa or create new ones if they don’t. Note that, as in this example, iNaturalist creates swaps not just for the child species but also the descendant subspecies. 


In this example, “Move children” did exactly what we would have done manually, but “Move children” is not very sophisticated and does not know how to handle situations where the names might change in a way that doesn’t fit the pattern above. For example, if Zetekopsis with child Zetekopsis indistinctus was swapped with Lissodendoryx with “Move Children” checked, iNaturalist would create Lissodendoryx indistinctus instead of the needed Lissodendoryx indistincta. Before using “Move children” make sure that all active descendant species or infraspecies on the input taxon world map perfectly via the pattern of replacing the genus part of the species name with the output genus or the species part of an infraspecies name with the output species, which is very often not the case.



Tip 2: Large swaps may take a while to process

Committing a taxon swap requires replacing existing IDs of the input taxon with new IDs generated by the swap.

For taxon swaps with many tens of thousands of observations and IDs on the input taxon, these updates can take many hours to update. You can check the committed taxon swap for the “Taxon change commit may still be processing…” notice to see whether the records have been updated. Keep in mind the order at which IDs/observations are updated isn’t predictable (e.g. not based on creation date).




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