Pacific Gull, Birdlists and Biodiversity

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Subject: Pacific Gull, Birdlists and Biodiversity
From: Simon Mustoe <>
Date: Sat, 16 Aug 2008 07:12:41 +0000
Jeff Davies made an interesting point. Far more interesting in fact, than the 
last 24 hours discussing vernaculars. Simon's gull is the one I would go with 
anyway - what does it matter, there is little or no recognition of the species 
in the statutory listing.
I will go on record by saying that the recognition of finer-scale taxonomic 
differences from a conservation management perspective in Australia is poor. 
Jeff raises a very important point because I would doubt anyone on birding-aus 
would ever seek to lobby against development on the grounds that the species, 
or a subspecies of Pacific Gull were present. However, this is a coastal bird 
of great significance for southern Australia.
We have some considerable biogeographic barriers to dispersal between 
subspecies in different parts of the country and Pacific Gulls are not a bad 
example. The national legislation identifies subspecies as a component of 
biodiversity but the species lists are in an awful mess. Hardly any subspecies 
are actually listed. First, the lists are not updated often enough. Second, 
what higher authority is there to guide the powers that be to recognise 
subspecies as of conservation importance? The current taxonomic processes don't 
do this.
I have great respect for the taxonomists in Australia, so I mean no disrespect 
here. However, I liken the work to geomorphology, another science I regularly 
come into contact with as a consultant. Geomorphology can operate in either an 
immediate short-term, or long-term context. Applied to biodiversity management, 
it is about the character and change in landscapes that effects distributions 
and behaviour of animals. However, the classic academic interpretation is of 
the construction of landscape form over geological time - a reasonable approach 
but quite unrelated to management problems.

Whilst taxonomists are preoccupied with identifying evolutionary make-up and 
lineages between the species (a long term historic view), this is rather 
academic when it comes to the immediate issues of managing existing populations 
at the subspecific level. It would help if the government understood this and 
the listing process was better, and perhaps our learned taxonomist colleagues 
were given the incentive and resources to look into these other matters in more 

The OECD recently criticised Australia for its failure to perform sustainably 
and drew partly on a lack of baseline knowledge. I have just written a paper on 
Fairy Terns in the Coral Sea, which we couldn't even get published in Emu. 
Probably the first new breeding subspecies for Australia in a decade or more 
and a subspecies that is critically declining elsewhere in its range. The 
recognition of biodiversity as more than just threatened species was the 
biggest outcome of a recent survey of 176 environmental professionals in 

For this reason, I was personally very disappointed with the recent taxonomic 
listing of Australian avifauna. By avoiding the most important context for this 
work, we continue to contribute to the demise of many regionally important 
subspecies. Uncommon (dare I say "rare") mainland breeders like Pacific Gull, 
which have distinctly separate and identifiable populations are obvious 
candidates for attention. There are many others.
Simon Mustoe.
Win New York holidays with Kellogg’s & Live Search

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