Re: Sibley and Ahlquist (long)

Subject: Re: Sibley and Ahlquist (long)
From: (Alan Wilkinson)
Date: Thu, 24 Aug 1995 14:58:39 +0000
John Leonard wrote

>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.

>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.

I'm interested to hear that the RAOU's checklist already follows Sibley et
al. Oriental Bird Club ( is
soon to publish a checklist for the oriental region which will follow the
Sibley and Munroe taxonomy (ie order of families) though not following the
nomenclature (naming) in every detail. This list has been compiled by Tim
Inskipp who is a respected authority on these matters in the UK - so it is
not just RAOU who favour Sibley.

>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.

I think you just have to be clear about the purpose of the list. If it is
intended to reflect your best guess of the phylogeny of birds then it
should represent your intepretation of the evidence for DNA relationships
vs morphological characteristics. (In my humble opinion I believe that
avian phylogeny is more likely to be revealed by DNA analysis than
morphological analysis.)

If the list is supposed to help you access species in field guides then it
would be best to have the order based on traditional classifications,
though these seem to vary quite widely anyway. Perhaps the best thing would
be to use a electronic computer-based  world-list indexed by both Sibley et
al ordering and conventional Morony and Bock type ordering so that the list
could be sorted either wayr. Sibley's latest list (1995) is now being
distributed in electronic format so perhaps this is not far away?


Alan Wilkinson
Alan Wilkinson, Corporate Design Group, BNR


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