Australian list taxonomy

To: Carl Clifford <>, Phil & Sue Gregory <>
Subject: Australian list taxonomy
From: David James <>
Date: Wed, 14 Dec 2011 18:40:56 -0800 (PST)
Phil and Carl,

I guess you have both been out of the country and off birding-aus for a while. 
There is a push in progress for an Australian online checklist, updatable and 
connected to the rest of the world. There is earlier discussion on birding-aus 
which I will not repeat. I have been working on an IOC list (on behalf of BARC) 
but staff of BA have been working on a Birdlife International based list. 

As for 'official', that, like democracy, is an important facade. RAOU/BA has 
maintained an official list since 1916, and I think that tradition should be 
maintained. However, it is time for some change, some international 
collaboration, and the end of 10-20-year checklists. There is also much more to 
checklists than taxonomy, particularly considering the poor quality of so much 
taxonomic research these days. For instance, there were more species changes to 
the Aus list of C&B 2008 (vs 1994) by the addition of vagrants (adjudicated by 
BARC) than due to taxonomic research (adjudicated by C&B). English names is a 
third component. My position is that we need a checklist committee that 
represents all 3 interests (previously it has been taxonomists only with 
invited input from the other two sides). However, BA currently does not have a 
taxonomic committee, apparently because they see it as unimportant. They 
recently replaced the 100 year old taxonomic advisory
 committee with a taxonomic adviser, Leo Joseph. Leo does not want to be 
involved in compiling checklists, but he he thinks an IOC-based Australian list 
is inevitable. The most frustrating thing at present is that to maintain the 
'official' facade, some decisions are needed from BA, and the relevant 
committee does not appear to understand or care about the issue. 

David James, 


From: Carl Clifford <>
To: Phil & Sue Gregory <> 
Cc: ;  
Sent: Wednesday, 14 December 2011 7:23 PM
Subject: Australian list taxonomy

I would not hold my breath for a regularly updated "official" checklist for 
Australia. It seems to me that trying to get taxonomists to agree is about as 
easy as trying to round up cats with Greyhound. I just use the IOC list and 
extract those species that are listed as occurring in Australia. One advantage 
of the IOC list is that it does have an Australian input via the Australian 
representatives to the IOC.


Carl Clifford

On 15/12/2011, at 12:03 PM, Phil & Sue Gregory wrote:

Some good points in your note about taxonomy David, I guess it simply means 
that in many cases we simply don't know in which box to place various taxa, and 
that there will not be a systematic organized approach, it just means results 
and opinions will filter through as research gets funded and written up.

The Helmeted Friarbird complex is clearly a grab-bag with a number of pretty 
distinctive taxa currently subsumed in it, differing in both voice and 
morphology and requiring a major analysis of all components to resolve. I was 
surprised to see the IOC elevate yorki to species level, but it is possibly 
correct, I  would have been more conservative and kept it with New Guinea 
Friarbird pending proper analysis of all the components of that group. At least 
the IOC is open to debate and input, you can query the rationale and have input 
about vernacular names. I have pushed long and hard to get rid of the imposed 
Clements names that suddenly appeared on that world checklist when the push for 
standardization began, with some degree of success, but it is a dynamic process 
and not set in stone, which I find laudable. Achieving consensus is always 
tough going, and what is meant by official Australian input?

I am still hazy about who are the keepers of the Australian Checklist. I know 
Christidis and Boles compiled the last one, but is anyone overseeing/ 
moderating subsequent changes? The whole taxonomic field for Australian birds 
is in a state of flux, and there are already many changes to the last edition, 
with more pending, and we surely don't want to go another decade or more before 
a new edition gets published. Having an on-line version with annual updates 
would be an ideal which it might be nice to work towards, maybe something like 
this is in the works but if so it sure is not well-known.

I agree about having one official list, but it does get frustrating when one is 
aware of well-documented changes that are not yet adopted. Who are the keepers 
of the  Australian list, and how were they appointed?  It'd be nice to see a 
representative committee of interested parties with an overall co-ordinator, 
whjch is the norm in the UK, the states and much of Europe.

Phil Gregory


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