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To Be a Species or Not To Be a Species?

This year’s issue of Birder’s Guide to Listing & Taxonomy features an article by Alan Knue called “To Be a Species or Not to Be a Species?” Within, Alan explains how scientists decide whether a bird population, such as the “Haida Gwaii” Saw-whet Owl, is a species or “just” a subspecies. At the end of the article, he has produced an extensive, helpful table of possible future lumps and splits, keyed out with with references listing some of the most recent scientific work on them, so you can dive right in if you want to learn more. With Alan’s article in hand, you can make sure when you visit a new location that you are paying attention to birds which might one day be split as separate species, as happened with the scrub-jays earlier this year.

But wait–there’s more! The electronic version of this issue has expanded content from Alan, including another list of possible extralimital splits and lumps and the list of references noted in the tables. Just click here to access.

Are there possible future splits and lumps that you didn’t see mentioned in the article? Do you have questions or comments for Alan? Please let us know in the comment section below.


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Michael Retter
Michael L. P. Retter is the editor of the ABA's newest magazine, Birder's Guide. He also wears his ABA cap while working as a Technical Reviewer for Birding magazine. When not at home, Michael is often leading tours in Middle America (Mexico through Panama). He currently lives with his fiancé, Matt, in Fort Worth, Texas. In his fleeting free time there, he pursues interests in horticulture (especially orchids), music, cooking, and numismatics. Michael also runs GBNA, the continent's informal club and email list for LGBT birders.
  • Pingback: Birder’s Guide to Listing & Taxonomy: October 2016 « ABA Publications()

  • Morgan Churchill

    Although a longshot, what about the Coastal Cactus Wren from Southern California? That seems worthy of being in the list

    • AJ Knue

      I’ve not found much published evidence of the coastal populations being very distinctive – plumage, vocalizations, morphometrics, and genetics- all show rather a homogenous northern group as opposed to the southern Baja birds. And and my personal experience seems to bear it out. Have you found anything otherwise?

  • Ed Pandolfino

    Alan, great article and excellent summary. One important correction is needed. For WB Nuthatch, you show the 4 possible taxa that may be split as S. c carolinensis, S.c. nelsoni, S.c.mexicana, and S.c.aculeata. Actually, The work of Walstrom et al. would subsume nelsoni and mexicana (with mexicana having priority for nomenclature) with S. c. tenuissima as the fourth ‘species’. Also, based on vocalization (Pandolfino & Pieplow 2015 West. Birds 46:278) as well the identification of likely hybrids between nelsoni and tenuissima (by morphology Hawbecker 1948 Condor 50:26 and DNA Spellman & Klicka 2007 Molec. Ecol. 16:1729) a three-way split might have more support (carolinensis, mexicana, aculeata).

    Ed Pandolfino

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