Subspecies vs Race

To: "Birding Australia" <>
Subject: Subspecies vs Race
From: "Tim Dolby" <>
Date: Tue, 24 Feb 2009 13:02:14 +1100
Hi all,

Re subspecies vs race with my limited knowledge here's a bit of a rundown. 
Swedish biologist Carl van Linné (usually known by the Latin version of his 
name - Linnaeus) proposed that all species of plant and animal should be 
identified by a unique Latin name in a standard form. This consists of two 
parts: the name of the genus (or group of organisms), followed by a name 
identifying the species within the genus. 

This system was extended in the nineteenth century to include the possibility 
to split a species into subspecies: if this is done a third name is added, 
identifying the subspecies (or race - the terms are interchangeable). One of 
the subspecies always takes the specific name . For example the scientific name 
for Yelow Wagatail is Motacilla flava, so there's bound to be a Motacilla flava 
flava (it's called the 'Blue-headed Wagtail'). This is called the nominate 

Often there's strong debate amongst taxonomist (and twitchers) about the very 
existence of species and subspecies. This seems to be the case with Yellow 
Wagtail. Phylogenetic studies suggest that the three eastern subspecies 
taivana, macronyx and tschutschensis are separate from the Western subspecies. 
Consequently these were combined to form the Eastern Yellow Wagtail. This seems 
to be backed up by bird calls - with all the Eastern subspecies sounding sharp, 
and the European/Western subspecies giving a smooth "pseeu".

Also although most bird field guides traditionally describe local subspecies 
they don't bother mapping them. Recently subspecies have started to appear in 
field guide maps, with a good example being Michael Morecombe's 'Field Guide to 
Australian Birds'. Personally I really like this approach, and commend Michael 
for his colour maps. Maps now distinguishing subspecies such as the 
'Black-winged Currawong', race melanoptera of the Grey Currawong, and the 
'Black-capped Sitella', race pileata of Varied Sitella (once considered full 
species). Despite the map boundaries usually being totally inaccurate, I find 
it a very useful visual way of seeing where one race begins and another ends.


Tim Dolby

-----Original Message-----
 On Behalf Of 

Sent: Tuesday, 24 February 2009 8:30 AM
Subject: Subspecies vs Race

Hi birders.

What is the difference between subspecies and race? And how would they be
expressed when written when referring to a race or subspecies? Would they
be written in three parts as in Genus species subsp. or Genus species race?

Thanks in advance from the ultimate birding virgin. :)

Akos L


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