Sibley and Ahlquist (long)

Subject: Sibley and Ahlquist (long)
Date: Thu, 24 Aug 1995 18:13:29 +1000
Dear Birders,

I'd like to get some feed-back on some thoughts I've put together re Sibley
and Ahlquist and what order should be used for bird-lists.

Currently there is a debate going on as to whether the traditional order of
birds (the one that starts with the Emu and ends up with Crows) should be
replaced with a new ordering, following the findings of research on avian
DNA hybridisation by Sibley and Ahlquist (Phylogeny and Classification of
Birds: A Study in Molecular Evolution, Yale UP, 1990, and numerous papers
over the years).

So far only the RAOU, in its latest bird-list, has followed this new
ordering, other bodies such as the American Ornothologists Union have
pointedly refused to change over.

On the one hand S and A's work is undoubtedly pathbreaking, but is unlikely
to be correct in all its detail, so it seems premature to switch over to
their ordering, on the other hand the older order is also a phylogeny (that
is, it attempts to give a history of avain evolution), and a less
satisfactory one and it seems equally awkward to stick to it merely because
it is traditional.

The answer seems to me that what we need for bird-lists (which are, after
all, most often only a conveint and familiar arrangement of birds) is an
oderning that will not need to be changed with every new theory of avian
philogeny, in other words, an artificial arrangement. And the best way to do
this would be to arrnage birds by alphabetical order of the highest taxa
that are uncontroversial, famialies in non-passerrines, sub-families in the
passerines. The resulting list would perhaps be monstrous and unfamiliar,
but only until it became familiar, and until it purpose was realised.

Any thoughts on the above?

John Leonard

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