A note on curating fungal names on iNat, and my personal policies.

There are no globally authoritative sources of taxonomy for fungi. SpeciesFungorum and MycoBank are not authoritative sources of taxonomic opinion. That is not their primary role and the managers of those resources do not claim to provide that service. So please do not assume that because these resources say something different to iNat that they are right and iNat is wrong. The fungal equivalent of Plants of the World Online does not exist, although some individual groups are associated with maintained checklists. Consequently, in most cases, the curation of fungi is carried out by referring to the primary literature together with some evaluation of whether the stated opinions are agreed by consensus within the mycological community. Not all published changes are universally adopted by mycologists, especially where a monophyletic genus is split into several genera, often without easily observed separating characters, or where a phylogenetic analysis is not supported, or based on too few genes and/or inadequate or inappropriate taxon sampling. So, the latest publication is not always accepted in the longer term. To avoid flip-flopping names we should wait until consensus acceptance is clear - at least for controversial changes (a recent treatment splitting Cortinarius comes to mind). Likewise, opinions of heterotypic synonymy for fungal species are often rather fluid, certainly in the absence of sequences of type material.

It is a demanding task to try and maintain the currency of the iNaturalist fungal names and should only be done by those with access to the primary literature (often behind paywalls or expensive technical volumes) and have the expertise to interpret that literature. There are relatively few of fungal curators who can, and are prepared, to do that for the 17,000 species currently listed in the iNat dictionary.

iNat contains many fungal names but it is still a small fraction of all fungal names. In total there are over 570,00 published names of fungi. 350,000 of those were published before 1950. Many older names are not associated with type material, or that material is in poor condition, and often the original descriptions lack sufficient detail to enable a sensible modern interpretation. These names are best forgotten unless they become officially resurrected through re-typification and description. Similarly, many names published up to the current day are supported by just the type collection, and perhaps a few paratypes. Many of these species are the province of dedicated specialists, perhaps needing confirmation by sequence. They may not be seen again for decades and may never have associated iNat observations.

For these reasons I personally will not add names to the iNaturalist dictionary simply because they are missing. Every extra name creates an additional curatorial overhead. If you ask for a name to be added, then please provide a link to the observation that requires the name.

Likewise, I do not think it appropriate to add names because they are listed in some regional checklist. If those lists have received recent revision and every entry validated then perhaps that is justifiable, even in the absence of associated observations. However, many regional lists contain the old, superfluous names I mention above. They are of no value in my opinion, certainly within the iNat framework.

Any name that is requested for addition should be checked to ensure it is listed in the global fungal nomenclature databases. IndexFungorum and MycoBank are the two that are easily accessible. These databases do contain authoritative and up to date nomenclatural information. That is, they tell you if the name was validly and legitimately published, together with any required orthographic corrections to the original spelling. Remember nomenclature (satisfying the rules of the International Code of Nomenclature for Algae, Fungi and Plants - ICN) is not the same as taxonomy (the opinion on the correct name for an organism). In certain cases, invalid or illegitimate names may be added to iNat. My rule is that if it’s in IF/MycoBank then it can be added. I will not add unpublished names to the iNat ditionary, and that is iNat policy, and often debated on the forum. Neither will I add recently published names where the registered names have not been released by IF/MycoBank. There is always the possibility the original orthography is incorrect, or some other issue impacts on the eventual availability of the name.

In my opinion those curating fungal names should have a good grasp of the ICN rules and understand there are some fundamental differences between ICZN and ICN. For example, new combinations under ICN are nomenclatural acts, requiring valid/legitimate publication - noting that these terms mean different things under ICN and ICZN. That is not true under ICZN where new combinations can be created by anybody, anywhere. The iNat Taxon Swap page even has a convenient flag that can be ticked to create these combinations for subordinate taxa - and that tick box can generate havoc for names treated under ICN. For fungi it is now also necessary for nomenclatural acts to be registered in IndexFungorum or MycoBank. Non-registered or incorrectly registered names are not validly published.

It is worth noting that modern mycology relies entirely on phylogenetic data to make sense of taxonomy. If some published taxonomic opinion (synonyms and hierarchical classification) dates from before about 1995 then be very cautious about the interpretation.

The hierarchical classification of fungal names in iNat (genera in families, orders, classes, phyla) should stick to the 'standard' used within IndexFungorum if possible. Deviations should be documented.

IndexFungorum does not incorporate any infra-generic classifications and we should only implement them in iNat where they are supported by recent phylogenetic-based revisions. Many pre-molecular classifications will be paraphyletic and we should not use them. If you add an infra-generic/supra-specific rank name then make sure you also include the nominate species and all the others proposed in the literature. Do not leave names 'hanging'.

If you are asking for a species to be added to a genus which contains an infrageneric classification, then please provide some indication of the parent infra-taxon for the species. We need to know where to graft it.

Species complexes in iNat have a specific definition. Do not lump a bunch of species together in a complex simply because they look similar. Often the phylogenies do not support that. Within iNat a species complex must refer to a group of closely related species within a monophyletic group. By definition the use of the term 'complex' means the species within the complex are cryptic, i.e. they are macro-morphologicaly similar, overlap in range and are therefore difficult to resolve (certainly from photos). I do not think we should introduce species complexes simply as a way of referring to phylogenetic clades. That would be a slippery slope to anarchy. They should be used sparingly and have some utility within iNat - as a container for unresolveable species. In addition, when a complex is introduced, it must have the nominate species included, and all the other species supported in the literature (from well supported phylogenies).

Finally, every name to be added should be checked against the literature to determine if the name is currently accepted (by consensus) and a reasonable scan of the literature to determine the current synonymy. Quite often iNat already contains synonymic names that may need a taxon swap. Over the last few months, I have made many hundreds of taxon swaps to try and tidy up the legacy of un-curated names in iNat. It is a time-consuming process that is far from complete.

Please (other curators) do not add to our problem by adding names without checking their status as outlined here.

Posted by cooperj cooperj, March 17, 2022 04:12


Thanks for your journal post.

570,000 published names for fungi! That is mindblowing. Does that include lichens (lichenised fungi)?

Posted by melissa_hutchison 3 months ago (Flag)

yes - they are fungi ;-)

Posted by cooperj 3 months ago (Flag)

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