White-lined Honeyeater split?

Subject: White-lined Honeyeater split?
From: "Frank Rheindt" <>
Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2006 00:30:41 +0100
Dear Murray, dear Birding-Aussers

Thanks for bringing up this intriguing topic. Yes, I think there is a fair chance Les Christidis will include this split in the next Checklist, and no - your sentence did not misrepresent things. Actually it explained things straight to the point: Genetically, the NT and Kimberley taxa are more distant from each other than other (unequivocal) Meliphaga species. This lies at the core of the so-called "yardstick approach", where divergence (whether it be genetic, plumage or song divergence) between unequivocal species is taken as a "ruler" to gauge taxonomic decisions in ambiguous cases.

You mention that the plumage divergence between the two forms is rather uninspiring. I would beg to differ: If compared with other Meliphaga species from New Guinea, the plumage differences are indeed vast. As you can see in the article, New Guinea harbours a whole radiation of pretty much identical-looking Meliphaga honeyeaters.

Another conclusion this study arrived at which may be of interest to Australian birders is the split between Graceful Honeyeater (M. gracilis) and M. cinereifrons from the Eastern Peninsula in New Guinea.

Happy birding,

============Frank E. RHEINDT================

University of Melbourne

Museum Victoria - Sciences Department
GPO Box 666
Melbourne 3001

Telephone: 8341 7426
Fax: 8341 7442


From: "Murray Lord" <>
To: <>
Subject: [Birding-Aus] White-lined Honeyeater split?
Date: Mon, 18 Dec 2006 21:09:28 +1100

Not sure if this has been mentioned on birding-aus before; couldn't find it in the archives. I have just been reading an article by Janette Norman, Frank Rheindt, Diane Rowe and Les Christidis entitled "Speciation dynamics in the Australo-Papuan Meliphaga honeyeaters". The part that would probably interest Australian birders the most is the suggestion that the White lined Honeyeater actually comprises two species - the White lined Honeyeater from the top end and the Kimberley Honeyeater from WA. This conclusion is reached on the basis that the genetic differences between the two forms exceed those between other forms that are clearly separate species.

{Frank if you're reading this and that one sentence misrepresents things please correct me - must admit that as usual with these sorts of papers the Methods and a fair chunk of the Results sections are lost on me!}

Following Terry's suggestion on how to provide long links, you can download the paper from

Having looked at HANZAB and some other books, it's interesting to note that the plumage differences between the two forms are - to put it mildly - pretty trivial. In fact as recently as 1978 Julian Ford didn't even consider them to be worthy of being considered different subspecies. To quote Schodde and Mason's Directory:

"upper surface of remiges and rectrices edged finely citrine; under-wing coverts ochreish-buff; belly greyish white" (White lined)

"upper surface of remiges and rectrices without citrine edging; under-wing coverts pale creamy-buff; belly milky white" (Kimberley)

Given that Les Christidis was one of the authors, I guess we can assume there's a decent chance the next RAOU checklist will give this proposal some consideration!

Murray Lord

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