RE: ultrataxa

To: 'Lawrie Conole' <>,
Subject: RE: ultrataxa
From: Rohan Clarke <>
Date: Fri, 7 Apr 2000 10:22:56 +1000
We're already changing our life lists??
When I first placed a list of Schodde and Masons (1999) proposed lumps and
splits I add the following to the end of the posting
' I understand the proposed changes now have to survive the scrutiny and
of other experts. If they receive widespread support they stand as are, if
they are disputed things may change again (nothing's set in concrete). The
take home message for people with an interest in bird watching (in any one
of it's many forms) is to identify and record birds to recognizable forms
(rather than just the currently accepted species level) wherever possible.'

My knowledge of S & M (1999) is that it includes new (mostly phenotypic)
research and as such it does still need to survive the scrutiny and opinion
of other experts. In S & M's (1999) case this is made difficult because
quite a lot of information typically provided in taxonomic revisions is not
available in the text. For example while sample sizes are given, in most
cases we don't know which actual specimens were examined, likewise, while
the readers is informed of plumage differences between proposed ultra-taxa,
summaries of data and analysis are not currently available. In fairness,
they do say this information is just postponed and will appear in future
electronic updates. Nevertheless it is currently unavailable. With this in
mind I'm simply uncomfortable with it's widespread adoption (see discussion
on Albatross taxonomy in the archive for a parallel) before the provision of
more data and the test of (at least some) time.

This type of taxonomic work is I understand, fundamentally different to
works such as Christidis and Boles (1994). C & B (1994) doesn't include new
research, but rather reviews past taxonomic works and based on all (peer
reviewed) published information (including summaries of data etc) arrives at
conclusions as to the most plausible taxonomy. To include S & M (1999) in a
review of a similar fashion would be difficult at the moment because of the
lack of data. Don't get me wrong I'm not arguing S & M (1999) have it wrong,
indeed many of their lumps and splits are not new proposals at all, but
rather are taxonomies traveling down that path of scrutiny and opinion by
other experts (in this case S & M are providing the scrutiny and additional
opinion). The Short-tailed Grasswren is one such example where published
opinion on its specific status previously existed (e.g. Christidis, L (1999)
Evolution and biogeography of the Australian grasswrens, Amytornis
(Aves:Maluridae): biochemical perspectives Australian Journal of Zoology,
47, 2 (1999): 113-124).

Having said this S & M (1999) remains a valuable work (I understand it's the
first attempt to catalogue all subspecies (ultrataxon) since Mathews early
last century) that will raise awareness, encourage more careful scrutiny
both in the field and in the museum tray and promote debate for years to



Rohan Clarke
PhD Candidate
Department of Zoology
La Trobe University
Bundoora Vic. 3083
Tel 03 9479 1672
Fax 03 94791551

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Lawrie Conole [SMTP:
> Sent: Thursday, 6 April 2000 18:31
> To:   Birding-Aus Mail
> Subject:      [BIRDING-AUS] WARNING:  Twitching discussed herein (and
> ultrataxa)
> So far I haven't noticed much discussion on the list about the numerical
> effects of Schodde & Mason (1999) on life lists.  Of course this is a
> facile point - it's essentially twitching rubbish isn't it!?  No apologies
> for that - I warned you in the e-mail subject line.
> Schodde the splitter has also indulged in some lumping.  Very even-handed
> of him really.  I had a look through the tome to see what effect it had on
> my list (I'd already gleaned it thoroughly for the interesting material on
> ultrataxa, biogeography, etc. - time for some fun now ....).  As it
> effects my list (spot the gaps!):
> Lumpings:
> *     Black-eared Miner Manorina melanotis INTO Yellow-throated Miner M.
> flavigula (-1)
> *     Spotted Catbird Ailuroedus melanotis INTO Green Catbird A.
> crassirostris (-1)
> *     Tasmanian Scrubwren Sericornis humilus INTO White-browed Scrubwren
> Sericornis frontalis (-1)
> Splits:
> *     Arafura Fantail Rhipidura dryas FROM Rufous Fantail R. rufifrons
> (+1)
> *     Australian Pipit Anthus australis FROM Richard's Pipit A. richardi
> (+1) (additional +1 to World list, as NZ A. novaeseelandiae is split as
> well by this logic)
> *     Australian Reed-Warbler Acrocephalus australis FROM Clamorous
> Reed-Warbler A. stentoreus (+1)
> *     Grey Fantail R. albiscapa FROM NZ Grey Fantail R. fuliginosa (+1 to
> World list; 0 to Australian list)
> *     Mallee Whipbird Psophodes leucogaster FROM Western Whipbird P.
> nigrogularis (0; as I don't have the WA Western Whipbird)
> *     Paperbark Flycatcher Myiagra nana FROM Restless Flycatcher M.
> inquieta (+1)
> *     Silver-backed Butcherbird Cracticus argenteus FROM Grey Butcherbird
> C. torquatus (+1)
> Total:
> *     Australian list +2
> *     World list +4
> *     486 ultrataxa
> *     279 'Christidis & Boles' species
> But seriously for a moment, I'd be interested to see some discussion on
> how recognisable some of these ultrataxa are in the field.  Where
> ultrataxa overlap we can't fall back on Schodde & Mason's excellent maps
> to arbitrate.  I'm intrigued by some of the southern Victorian ultrataxa
> for example - an Otways/Strezlecki population of the Brown-headed
> Honeyeater.  It'll certainly change the way I look at some of these birds.
> Comments ....... ?????
> Cheers -- Lawrie
> PS:  Any comments about how many football fields of forest are being
> cleared while I type this e-mail would be superfluous - I've already
> thought about that.  It doesn't change my interest in the minutiae of
> ultrataxa.
> --
> +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
> 3 Gezireh Street, Pascoe Vale South
> Victoria 3044 AUSTRALIA.  37°44'27"S  144°56'17"E
> Phone (03) 9354 2484; Mobile (0419) 588 993
> E-mail: < <>>
> My home page: <>
> Twitchathon: <>
> BirdInfo-Users: <>
> +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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