Re: subspecies

To: <>
Subject: Re: subspecies
From: "Murray Lord" <>
Date: Fri, 14 Mar 2008 20:38:30 +1100

As far as I am aware there is no "official" list of subspecies.  I think the 
closest you will come is the list of passerine subspecies contained in volume 1 
of Schodde and Mason's Directory of Australian Birds.  That book certainly 
contains the most comprehensive recent review of subspecies of a large number 
of Australian birds.  HANZAB generally followed it for the passerines, despite 
some of the supporting information not being published (for example the book 
does not make clear how many specimens of each species were reviewed to reach 
the conclusions published).

One of the problems is that there is considerable disagreement about the whole 
concept of subspecies and how they should be applied, especially to birds.  
Whereas the test of whether two birds are different species is in theory 
objective - but in practice often subjective if the birds' ranges do not 
overlap - subspecies vary by degree and different people can have totally 
different views on whether something should be recognised as a different 
subspecies.  This is particularly the case where variations are clinal (i.e. 
gradual across the bird's range).  I read something recently (sorry can't 
remember where) that suggested one should only recognise subspecies in birds 
where there is clear geographic separation between distinctive forms, and not 
where populations intergrade.  Also various papers have highlighted that more 
often than not a mismatch between what looks like distinctive subspecies based 
on plumages and what the genetic evidence shows to be the history of the 

Murray Lord

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