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Split or Get Off the Pot: Genetics and the AOU vs. Reality?


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#1 offshorebirder

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Posted 26 August 2015 - 07:28 PM

The following blog post by Steve NG Howell is a gem:

 

http://blog.leica-bi...aou-vs-reality/

 

 

Not long ago, in another thread, @armchair bushman and I were discussing our angst with species "splits" and "lumps" that were blindly based on genetic analysis.

 

In his excellent analysis, and in typical style, Steve savages the American Ornithologists' Union's North American Classification Committee - the "official" body that determines bird taxonomy and decides on species' names.

 

A few choice sections:

 

"The trend that spurred this commentary is the strong impression held by me and others that today’s AOU seems to use genetic data as a crutch. They are reluctant to take a step without it, and in the process appear crippled, or at least seriously handicapped. Not surprisingly, then, the AOU lags well behind most of the world’s other taxonomic bodies on the road to reality."

 

"If the AOU continues on a heading beguiled by genetics, I suspect that sooner or later most birders, including the ABA, may leave the taxonomically constipated NACC to play alone in their ivory tower."

 

 


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#2 offshorebirder

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Posted 26 August 2015 - 07:35 PM

And in another post linked in the above article, Steve makes the following astute observation:

 

"Although some may claim otherwise, avian geneticists are still groping around in a recently tilled but dimly lit field, learning how to use their new tools. Thus it seems only common sense to treat their early harvests as working hypotheses, especially at the taxonomic levels of genus and  species."


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#3 Soukous

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Posted 27 August 2015 - 08:32 AM

I'm not sure if I'm following you correctly @offshorebirder but if this is a rant against the changing of well established species names and causing confusion for no real benefit, then I am with you. 

I can't count the number of times I have said to a guide or a guide has said to me "It isn't called that anymore."

What am I supposed to do - go back and re-label all my old photos? edit the pages in my bird books?  :angry:


Edited by Soukous, 27 August 2015 - 08:35 AM.

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#4 offshorebirder

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Posted 27 August 2015 - 12:54 PM

Yes, that's it @Soukous.    

 

I think the root of the problem is that Ornithological Committees, in particular the AOU, have largely thrown out traditional ways (morphology + plumage, voice, distinct breeding geography and phenology, etc)  to decide species delineations - in favor of blindly following genetic analysis publications.  And also that genetic analysis is still in its infancy and early papers are often dis-proven by later ones.  This results in the committees "taking back" premature / hasty decisions and undermines their air of competence / authority.

 

The effects of this on taxonomic decisions are:

1) to flip flop back and forth with splits, then lumps, then resplits as subsequent genetic analysis publications contradict each other

2) to wait to undo what are clearly bad past decisions until a genetic analysis paper on the subject is published.

3) to keep reshuffling the ornithological order and moving families of birds around in relation to each other

4) Constant name changes as a result of 1)

 

3) Makes it hard to find the bird you are looking for in newer versions of field guides - which drives me up the wall in the heat of battle when trying to look up a given species.


Edited by offshorebirder, 27 August 2015 - 12:58 PM.

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#5 Tom Kellie

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Posted 29 August 2015 - 10:42 PM

I'm not sure if I'm following you correctly @offshorebirder but if this is a rant against the changing of well established species names and causing confusion for no real benefit, then I am with you. 

I can't count the number of times I have said to a guide or a guide has said to me "It isn't called that anymore."

What am I supposed to do - go back and re-label all my old photos? edit the pages in my bird books?  :angry:

 

~ @Soukous

 

Ha! Great comment!

 

So true...who profits are field guide publishers who offer “the latest updated binomial nomenclature”.

 

Tom K.



#6 Sverker

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Posted 02 September 2015 - 10:34 AM

Isn´t it nice that suddenly there are more birdspecies to twitch?

 

Sometimes you get more species on your own list, without even raising from your armchair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

:lol:


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Slower is better!

#7 Tom Kellie

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Posted 02 September 2015 - 10:40 AM

Isn´t it nice that suddenly there are more birdspecies to twitch?

 

Sometimes you get more species on your own list, without even raising from your armchair.

 

~ @Sverker

 

Unearned dividends are nonetheless most welcome.

 

Your comment made me laugh. Very humorous and apt!

 

Tom K.


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#8 armchair bushman

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Posted 18 September 2015 - 07:18 AM

From a purely unscientific, birder point of view, it certainly is very frustrating.  You go see a bird in a particular location, which, for the last 50 years has been one and the same species with a bird in another location less than 100km.  The next year, a friend of yours goes and sees that exact same bird, but now he's seen a "new species".  you've both seen the same bird.  

 

The opinions of birdwatchers should never, however, be the reason for not advancing science.  And yet, I am fully on the same page with @offshorebirder that there are too many scientists out there who seem far too eager to get their name on a paper naming a new species without putting enough effort and time into really genuinely figuring it out with ALL the evidence available.  

I also find that there are too many, somewhat loose, definitions of what constitutes a 'good' species.  It's all relatively simple with mammals, but much less so with birds or anything smaller with greater genetic diversity.

 

If someone finds a new species in a forest in Central Africa which has literally never been described by science before, that's exciting.  If someone splits a well-known species in two just to get their name on a new species, that's ego - and therefore annoying.


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#9 Peter Connan

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Posted 01 October 2015 - 04:12 AM

If someone finds a new species in a forest in Central Africa which has literally never been described by science before, that's exciting.  If someone splits a well-known species in two just to get their name on a new species, that's ego - and therefore annoying.


Even if this new species really is a new sub-species, the danger is that it will then be targeted for specific protection, and I feel this is counter-productive. I feel the best method is to focus all our attentions and resources on conserving the environment, thus benefitting all species?
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Ek oefen skelm.

#10 Tom Kellie

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Posted 13 October 2015 - 10:23 AM

 

If someone finds a new species in a forest in Central Africa which has literally never been described by science before, that's exciting.  If someone splits a well-known species in two just to get their name on a new species, that's ego - and therefore annoying.


Even if this new species really is a new sub-species, the danger is that it will then be targeted for specific protection, and I feel this is counter-productive. I feel the best method is to focus all our attentions and resources on conserving the environment, thus benefitting all species?

 

~ @Peter Connan

 

In another thread @ZaminOz wrote a similar thought.

 

This is something that I'd never previously considered as my work had no direct connection with conservation matters.

 

Your comment and that of @ZaminOz have the effect of shaking my shoulder, awakening me from the drowsy stupor of indifference.

 

Tom K.


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