Taxonomic Swap 9649 (Committed on 2014-11-20)

Clements 6.9 considers this in Phalacrocorax

The eBird/Clements checklist of birds... (Citation)
Added by loarie on November 20, 2014 21:56 | Committed by loarie on November 20, 2014
replaced with


This devotion to the Clements checklist is annoying some users of NatureWatch NZ. I've been getting emails about it, as well as comments being made on the site. This change will be another example that annoys our birders. Leucocarbo chalconotus is the accepted name here for the Stewart Island shag:

For birds that are endemic New Zealand, could we instead follow the taxonomy in the New Zealand Recognised Bird Names (NZRBN) database? It's at

Posted by jon_sullivan almost 8 years ago (Flag)

Well currently, Clements 6.9 is the taxonomic authority iNat uses for birds. Its also what eBird uses. Check the Curator Guide. Anything could be changed, of course - would be easier for endemics but would definitely complicate things.

But speaking personally, I sure hope we don't have to do something more complicated than sticking with Clements - iNat should be a place for focusing on getting outside, not debating taxonomy - which is the whole point of using taxonomic authorities. Also eBird is pretty dominant these days - most birders are getting on board with that taxonomy. Thoughts?

Posted by loarie almost 8 years ago (Flag)

In the short term, whats most important is to get rid of the duplication, then if everyone is not agains trying to do something more sophisticated than just a single Bird taxonomy (I'm not in favor of it because it means more work but not against it) - lets work together to figure that out. In the meantime, can you tell folks that we're trying to work through de-duping the iNat/NZ taxa and are interested in hearing their feedback?

Posted by loarie almost 8 years ago (Flag)

Ditto as regards re-naming spotted shag (Stictocarbo punctatus) as Phalacrocorac punctatus. This seems to go against all of the NZ literature for this endemic bird including the most up-to-date of authoritative on line and published works. I personally think that when it comes to endemic species the taxonomic identification used by the country for which the bird is endemic should have preference.

Posted by steveattwood almost 8 years ago (Flag)

I had a look at eBird NZ and they are indeed sticking with Clements rather than using the NZ Recognised Bird Names database. That must have sparked some conversations here. More remarkably, I searched their map for Leucocarbo chalconotus and got "no species found". And it worked fine for Phalacrocorax chalconotus. So their species map is not even catching the synonym, to my great suprise.

If the NZ ornithological society (which funds the NZ instance of eBird) has had to accept Clements, I doubt we have any grounds to be more fussy. And I expect that most of the complaints about names will come from bird names. They have so far, although we've got some outdated oddities elsewhere, like Neopanax rather than Pseudopanax in plants, which I have to follow up on.

Ken-ichi has been talking about tweaking the iNat configuration options to default NatureWatch NZ to our NZ preferred common name for each taxon rather than the iNat global preferred common name. The global names are sometimes odd things that nobody here uses. In instances like Leucocarbo chalconotus, with one-to-one synonomy, would it be technically any more difficult to do the same for scientific names? And at a species level only (i.e., Leucocarbo chalconotus would have the parent Phalacrocorax)?

That could be the technically easiest solution that would avoid the headache of running slightly different trees for each instance (which I'd also not be in favour of).

It still won't solve everything though, like our two takahe species (Notornis) now being regarded as separate species here but Clements still regarding them as subspecies. In such cases, we may just have to wait for Clements to catch up. (Like we were doing with the NZ Organisms Register on NatureWatch NZ before our merger, although I am guilty of having moved NatureWatch NZ ahead of NZOR when they lagged too far behind, as they do for some groups where the source databases are not being frequenty updated).

Posted by jon_sullivan almost 8 years ago (Flag)

How about taking this up with the folks that maintain Clements/eBird - we met with Brian Sullivan the other day who is super cool. I don't see why they wouldn't accommodate NZ endemics. We're talking about deeper links to eBird, and the shared taxonomy is a key strength. But again, anything is possible, but I don't see why we need to complicate things with something as arbitrary as taxonomy...

Posted by loarie almost 8 years ago (Flag)

It sounds like the authority issue is resolved here (if you have a problem with Clements, talk to Clements). I know following authorities doesn't please everyone (if you think NZ birds are bad, try North American herps), but I think we're all equally displeased, and I think our authority policy correctly focuses that displeasure where it belongs (on taxonomists) and not here on iNat.

Regarding place-specific common names, it's on my list: We will not be making place-specific scientific names. The whole point of scientific names is that they're supposed to transcend languages and geography. Supporting multiple valid scientific names for the same taxonomic concept would basically be like abandoning scientific names altogether in favor of iNat taxon IDs.

Posted by kueda almost 8 years ago (Flag)

OK. We'll chalk this up as one of the (very few) down sides to integrating with iNat. We'll try to work with our birders to help the Clements folks to get up-to-date with their NZ bird nomenclature, where they might be lagging.

In answer to Ken-ichi, the reality is that for some taxa there are multiple valid scientific names for the same taxonomic concept. Scientific names are labels attached to evolutionary hypotheses. Several can be competing at one time. Leucocarbo chalconotus and Phalacrocorax chalconotus are both valid current names for the same bird. Allowing some regions to display one name and others to display the other, for what everyone agrees is one taxon, is hardly "abandoning scientific names altogether". In this case, the debate is about how many genera to use to label the radiation of cormorants within the traditional definition of Phalacrocorax. The New Zealand Recognised Bird Names went one way, Clements went the other. There's not necessarily one right answer, although consensus is likely to emerge with more evidence.

Speaking of which, I just found a recent paper in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution from October this year looking at the molecular relationships among the species in the Phalacrocoracidae. It concludes that Leucocarbo is a well supported clade and recommends its use as a genus. So perhaps the next Clements will change to Leucocarbo chalconotus.

I understand that it's best that iNat follows one authority and avoids all this debate. I just wanted to emphasise that our earlier decision to follow New Zealand Recognised Bird Names was the sensible choice regionally, just like your decision to follow Clements was the sensible choice globally. Now that we're in iNat, we've switched to follow Clements' take on these areas of uncertainty and debate, and that's inevitably confusing some NZ bird watchers.

Posted by jon_sullivan almost 8 years ago (Flag)

My problem with Clements (not iNat) is that Clements seems to me to be hugely northern hemisphere-centric and, even where the bird is endemic to the Southern hemisphere, if there is a dispute in scientific names or the preferred common name it seems always to opt for northern hemisphere preferences instead of indigenous preferences. Oh well, as Jon says, that's really about us "bottom enders" getting better at informing and lobbying Clements.

Posted by steveattwood almost 8 years ago (Flag)

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