I tried this with a similar tech pair. I initiated a trade for Planetary Improvements (PI) which masks Stellar Production (SP) (both PlanetaryImprovements). SP offers +10 Econ; PI offers +10 MP, SP, RP. I received +10 MP, SP, RP, no Econ. Unlock worked as expected and SP disappeared from my available tech and from the full tree display, replaced by PI.
Yeah, that is weird. There really seems to be no consistency in how the game applies the bonuses. One time, it works as you expect, and the next time, it's completely different, even under the same circumstances. Baffling, to say the least.
In other words, why not create a brand new Stellar Production node with a different internal name?
That's how it originally was. It got changed in order to reduce the effects of a "bug" with the minor races.
The minor races lose access to techs that are declared unique to a major race. For example, the Arceans don't have access to any of the standard propulsion techs beyond Hyperdrive. In a 1vs1 match between them and the Drengin, those techs will be declared unique to the Drengin (because they are the only major race with access to them). All the minor races on the map will not be able to research those techs.
This "bug" is the effect of a mechanic Stardock added during the beta for TotA in order to address the concerns a lot of players had with the minor races having access to race-specific techs. Once the minors got their own tech tree, the mechanic was no longer necessary, but remained in place for some reason. Probably because Stardock forgot about it.
In any case, in my mod, Autumn Twilight, I changed Stellar Production and Xeno Slavery (Drengin/Korath) back to be independent techs again. I'm also currently working on a new version, where I did that with all of the affected techs.
Different topic, sort of. I'm using the TechEditor to examine the trees. What I'm seeing does not correspond to what I see in the game display. E.g. Thalan Xeno Biology (ID = 'Xeno Biology') has no Civ. Ability defined, yet is displayed (and apparently does have) a +10 PopG ability in the game.
Are you sure? I just had a look and Xeno Biology clearly showed PopulationGrowth (10) under Civ. Ability Bonuses.
Game display shows Xeno Bio as already known at startup, which I understand is unique to the 2.20 Thalan tree.
No, that was always the case in TotA.
Am I looking at the tree that the game is actually using? The file I've opened in the editor is ...\Stardock\GalCiv2.20\Twilight\Data\English\TechTrees\Thalan_TechTree.xml.
Yes, that's the right file.
Or is this another case of a hard-coded bonus?
No, all of the ability bonuses are set in the TechTree.xml, and can be freely changed. Some of the race-specific tech trees have modifications to those values, like it is the case with Planetary Improvements (Stellar Production) and Space Militarization (Defense Industries) for the Thalan.