Subspecies vs Race

To: Jeff Davies <>, Tim Dolby <>, Birding Australia <>
Subject: Subspecies vs Race
From: Nikolas Haass <>
Date: Tue, 24 Feb 2009 13:35:50 -0800 (PST)
Hi Jeff et al.,

Yes, reading Pavlova et al (2003) and Voelker (2002) in contrast to Sangster et 
al (1999) and Alstroem & Mild (2003) is interesting (all are discussed in 
Christidis  & Boles 2008). However, I am still surprised that the very 
different feldegg (both males and females look very different from the other 
Western Yellow Wagtails and also their calls differ significantly [more like 
Eastern Yellow Wagtail]) is genetically part of the Western complex. I agree 
that there might be some more taxonomic fine tuning to be done.


Nikolas Haass

Sydney, NSW

----- Original Message ----
From: Jeff Davies <>
To: Tim Dolby <>; Birding Australia 
Sent: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 3:08:01 PM
Subject: RE: [Birding-Aus] Subspecies vs Race

G'day Tim,

Just a quick clarification of Yellow Wagtail systematics while it's topical
with the bird showing at Werribee. The most recent work on this group is
adopted by Christidis and Boles 2008 and they list taivana as a separate
species the Green-headed Yellow Wagtail and tentatively suggest macronyx as
its nearest relative and a possible subspecies. The Eastern Yellow Wagtail
consists of tschutschensis as the nominate and includes simillima as an
extremely similar subspecies. Both of these two species as you correctly
point out are part of the eastern group of Yellow Wagtails that are
genetically distinct from the western group. Clearly there is still more
taxanomic fine tuning to be done with Yellow Wagtails, but it’s a complex
entanglement that may take a while to tease out.

Cheers Jeff.

-----Original Message-----
 On Behalf Of Tim Dolby
Sent: Tuesday, 24 February 2009 1:02 PM
To: Birding Australia
Subject: RE: [Birding-Aus] Subspecies vs Race

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 subspecies.

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: [Birding-Aus] 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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