The Lesser Sooty Owl and Sooty Owl?

Subject: The Lesser Sooty Owl and Sooty Owl?
Date: Wed, 04 May 2011 13:08:46 +1000

I suspect the harsh response from Chris was driven by the tone of some emails 
that stated that because the two forms of Sooty Owl are field diagnosable than 
they were clearly good species and ergo C&B and the taxonomists are wrong. 

Apperance is one element that can help you determine whether a group of birds 
is a species or not, but there are plenty of birds that look different that are 
in fact the same species responding to different ecological factors in a 
particular part of the range with very little 'real' difference beyond how they 
look. Given enough time they might be sufficiently differentiated to be called 
species. In a few million years you might get your wish and the Sooty Owl 
populations are formally split. Alternatively the ecological circumstances that 
might drive current variation between the appearance of the populations might 
level out and there will be less difference. Who knows.

At the same time there are plenty of examples of good species that are very 
difficult to diagnose in the field. There is an interesting case with 
logrunners uncovered some years back (and people keep uncovering new crossbill 
species!) where birds the birds in New Guniea and Australia are 
indistinguishable in the field but diverged millions of years ago and are 
genetically very different.

At the end of the day, you can of course keep your field notes and lists 
however you like. Species limits and individual diagnoses are always open to 
debate and revision in closely related populations.
But I would caution against reducing the science to 'it looks different so it 
must be another species'....


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