Subject: ListCriteria
From: Russell Woodford <>
Date: Wed, 4 Oct 1995 10:50:12 +1000 (EST)
I've been a little bemused / confused by some of the comments about what 
should or should not be on any particular list.  So here's my 2c worth.

Lists are artificial, and are a human, certainly inaccurate, attempt to 
describe what species occur in a particular area.  In the case of the 
Australian List, this is a particularly artificial area, consisting of 
the continent and SOME surrounding islands, but not others.

Inaccurate?  Of course, as it is impossible to record ALL the birds that 
have visited the region we describe as 'Australia'.  Firstly, there are 
historical regions - we don't know all that was here before ABoriginal 
settlement (40,000+ yrs ago??) or even what might have been missed as the 
continent was opened up by European discovery.  Secondly, it is a big 
place, a remote place, and if foreign ships and light aircraft with 
devious purposes can come and go unnoticed, then it is likely the odd 
wader or passerine or other bird has slipped across the coastline.
Thirdly, how many of the people who might have seen an unusual visitor 
would have the experience/knowledge/interest to identify it correctly?  
This is probably the biggest margin for 'error' on the list - that is, 
there have probably been many many sightings of undescribed species.
When we venture beyond birds, to marine organisms etc, the difficulty is 
compunded by the fact that so much is yet to be described by science!
(There is an interesting article about the dearth of taxonomists in 
today's Australian).

So, the 'Australian List' is at best a collection of reports of birds 
that have been seen (and verified, Tony!) within the boundaries of what 
we call Australia. (It is interesting to speculate on what we have MISSED!)

I suppose that the importance of any Australian List must be determined 
by the target audience.  Who is it?  I guess we'd have to include 
Government and non-government conservation agencies, and anyone dealing 
with them for development purposes.  Naturalists, scientists, 
birdwatchers (all the way from hard-core twitchers to those with a casual 
interest in their environment) are also important.  So, if we are 
debating WHAT should go on the list, we need to consider all of these 
groups and their various interests/concerns.  It all becomes a bit complex...

I can't beleive that anyone would seriously advocate that someone remove 
an extinct bird from their OWN list.  If it was a bona fide 'tick' WHEN 
it was seen, then it has to remain on that list.  Take the Ostrich - 
those who listed it did so under the rules of the time.  If at some 
future stage it is decided to split Ostriches, and that the local ones 
are a separate species from those elsewhere (improbable of course), then 
the list should reflect that taxonomic change.  However, if Ostriches 
become extinct in the wild in Australia, then the record MUST remain as 
an historical record, but obviously one that cannot be repeated by others 
in the future.   The same goes for 'local' extinctions.  Why should 
someone who has only seen a Bustard near Geelong (if decades ago) not 
count that species now because Bustards are locally extinct.

It all comes down to the fact that everyone will have his or her own 
opinion on this, and because it is an artificial situation, no single 
answer is sufficient for all situations.  Perhaps we need a 'dynamic' 
(changing in time) list.  Who knows what is possible with Windows95 (ha!).
But maybe the concept of lists WILL have to change a little, one day?

By the way, all the discussion on this and similar matters will gointo 
the archive, in a big file called list-criteria.txt and will take an 
eternity to download  :-)


Russell Woodford
List Maintainer
Verbose Mode ONDate: Tue, 2 Jan 1996 22:30:03 +1100 (EST)

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>
  • ListCriteria, Russell Woodford <=

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU