Australian MothTaxonomy / Ecology and the role of iNaturalist

There is an all to common a problem with Lep taxonomy ... who is the authority? I come from an ornithological background whereby there are over-arching nomenclatural authorities for specific geographical regions. The Australian Faunal Directory could be such an authority. However, as has been pointed out several occasions by Roger Kendrick and others, the listing may be out-of-date regarding Lep taxonomy. AFD still lists Ardices as a synonym of Spilosoma for example though in a recent iNat discussion more recent work reverses the synonym. See ...

This has been especially troublesome for iNat entries as any given week (for the past 18 months) I am aware of a dozen or so duplicate taxon pages for Australian moth species. But which name should take precedent? Apart from my unfamiliarity with the literature, there remains the conundrum posed by Ethan ... namely has a taxon change been adopted and by whom.

By way of example and not to get off topic ... do I propose

Nanaguna clopaea (35 iNat entries)
Etanna clopaea (60 iNat entries)

or vice-a-versa? BTW, Lep Index only recognizes Nanaguna clopaea.

This poses two questions. The obvious taxonomic issue which all too often buries the data management issue that impacts our ecological understanding (or lack thereof) for the species.

The first is to be resolved by taxonomic authorities. Is there an Australian working group dedicated to resolving these matters? But should we not accept, within the context of citizen science, temporary placeholders to facilitate ecological understanding?

--------------------------------------Post Script (a lament) ----------------------------------

This subject has pre-occupied much of my day for the past 2 years. Forty years ago this week, I started on a path in evolutionary biology as a taxonomist and museum trays were to become more familiar to me than my sock draw. From SEM study of dinoflagellate algae to species diagnoses involving Trichoptera, I put my time in. But the 20 years of work on endangered species recovery taught me the real meaning behind the nomenclature ... associating a species with its ecology allowing the basis for environmental management. That may seem to be stating the obvious, yet I feel the need to say it. I estimate there are 100-150 undescribed (not unknown) Australian moth species (identified by ANIC number) in iNaturalist. But in the absence of a means by which these species can be attached to a record of its distribution and seasonality, the entry cannot inform management decisions.

Yes, we desperately need more taxonomists. But that takes time and time is running out ...

Publicado el septiembre 2, 2019 03:10 TARDE por vicfazio3 vicfazio3


Hi Victor

In the botanical world, or at least in Western Australia, we have overcome some of the issues of undescribed but recognised taxa by giving them a "phrase name". This "phrase name" has a legal value in terms of allowing the taxa to be protected in the same way as a described species. I would have thought that for moth species that are undescribed but identified with an ANIC number that these could also be viewed in the same way as "phrase names".

The phrase name system was adopted by the WA Govt after recommendations from the Herbarium. I don't know what authorities, both Govt and Taxonomy, would be needed in Moth Taxonomy. I would suggest that most of the taxonomy work is done through Museums or CSIRO so they would be the ones to adopt this process if it is of any value.

The phrase name system works like this. The taxonomist or specialist in a particular Family fills in a form describing some of the salient points that differentiates the proposed taxa from other taxa. This is submitted to a small group who consider the information and then either require more info or recommend its listing. I have put up about 20 phrase names for new taxa in the Eremophila genus which Im working on through the WA Herbarium. These are now listed on Florabase, the official site for WA flora.

Same system should be easy enough to implement through Museums at a state level.


Bevan Buirchell (#Eremophila)

Publicado por eremophila hace más de 4 años

Thank you both for your comments. I will address more fully when time permits.

This started out as a response to the iNat observation listed at the beginning,
but found I was waxing philosophical and felt it inappropriate for that venue.

Bevan, great ideas ... I posed the notion of using ANIC numbers to the
iNat leadership 2-3 years ago (will have to dig out the correspondence).
The response was these equated with American Hodges Number for
the moth species there ... which I thought was a good thing as it
lends stability to their status as good species and therefore
translatable to their use in iNat, but this was in fact a dismissal.

Since then, a very disheartening exchange has been posted in the iNat
forums on the practicality of addressing undescribed species.

In light of the recent headlines regarding the likelihood of many of these
disappearing before they are formally name, I can only feel frustration.
And apart from the ecology/management side of things, there is the fact that
I must start from scratch for the identification of every one of undescribed
species as there is no search capability. Yet some species are commonly
encountered by many observers e.g. Chezala ANIC 1.

I have tried alt solutions ... here is a listing I started for those I come across

however, it was remarkably time consuming to sift through genera. A field on the species to flag a entry as an undescribed species would help. However, that is not possible for technical reasons (attempts to add call up predesignated undescribed species).

I must therefore be reconciled with the fact that iNaturalist cannot serve
the 56% of Australian moth fauna (about 12,000 species) with unique ANIC

@loarie Or am I wrong in my thinking?

Publicado por vicfazio3 hace más de 4 años

Fascinating,clearly written and of ominous portent.Although above my pay grade (euphemism for I'm not trained in taxonomy but love iNat) I get the points, and totally agree (again that's without knowing the many details discussed, but you make such a compelling case I can't imagine any rational person would disagree with the thrust of this journal post.)
Thanks for telling it like it is,
David Muirhead (@davemmdave)
'Experienced amateur general naturalist'

Publicado por davemmdave hace casi 4 años

The simple patch is to use tags, and get in the habit of checking the tag field for ANIC numbered species if seeing only a generic name in the title field.
Thus a numbered species can become searchable.

Publicado por dustaway hace casi 4 años

Having recommended that, I have probably inconsistently applied the will work back through my stuff!

Publicado por dustaway hace casi 4 años

How is this done? Might work for one's own, but how do you tag others
unless they allow it. And can that produce a record of it in
species lists? Yes, I know enough to find these things through
my knowledge of the taxonomy. If I look for Pilostibes ANIC 1
with a search on Pilostibes (filter limit at genus) I can
open up each and see the comments section whereby
I already 'tag' the observation as ANIC 1. In your example, I take it
I can search directly on a tag ... don't know how to do that.
But that is not the point I am trying to make.

I am referring to assigning a unique page for a undescribed
species whereby a map and seasonal chart, are generated.
The same ecological info that we see for described species.
That is the double standard that I find so troubling.

Publicado por vicfazio3 hace casi 4 años

It's true, it's of limited assistance. Anyone logging Pilostibes sp ANIC1 must tag to the same specification to call up the community's portfolio of that species.
One has to assemble the distribution and phenological content 'by hand',
and can only share it via logging it here on a journal page.
This can work when the interested community is small and motivated, but that's about all.

Publicado por dustaway hace casi 4 años

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