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Reprise 2: Snowy Plover likely to be Split from Kentish Plover ( & other hot news flashes) – Revisited

April 4, 2020

Editor’s Note: Entry number two in our trip down memory lane was originally posted 12-4-10, and is number ten on our all-time popularity list. The prediction that the AOU would split this species came true in 2011. People still read this posting, most recently in January, 2020.

The International Ornithological Congress has recognized the split between our New World Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus) and the Old World Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), and it seems likely that the American Ornithological Union (AOU) will do the same. If they do, the US Fish and Wildlife Service will most likely also recognize this split. Here’s the write-up submitted to the AOU.

Long term lagoon resident, Snowy Plover NO:WW (C.Almdale)

2010-A-1 N&MA Classification Committee p. 145-146
Separate Snowy Plover Charadrius nivosus from Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus
Description of the problem:
Despite their distinct geographic distributions, Palaearctic and Nearctic populations of Snowy Plover Charadius alexandrinus are currently considered to be a single species. Snowy Plovers in America were first described as Aegialitis nivosa by Cassin in 1858 (cited by Oberholser 1922), but the differences in adult plumage to Eastern Snowy Plovers were not deemed to be consistent enough to warrant full species status (Oberholser 1922).
New information:
Genetic differences between Eurasian and American populations of Snowy Plovers are substantial (Küpper et al. 2009). Mitochondrial DNA sequences of ND3 and ATPase differ by more than 6% between American and Eurasian populations. Φst values for North American and Eurasian populations are large (all population comparisons ≥ 0.95). Autosomal and sex chromosomal markers show distinct alleles for Eurasian and American Snowy Plovers. Fst values based on microsatellite analyses are above 0.25 for all population comparisons between Eurasian and North American Snowy Plovers. The American and Eurasian Snowy Plovers are more genetically differentiated than the Eurasian Snowy Plovers and African White-fronted Plovers C. marginatus (described by Vieillot 1818).
Genetic differences are also reflected in morphological and behavioural differences. Eurasian Snowy Plovers are larger than American Snowy Plovers. There are also differences in chick plumage and male advertisement calls (Küpper et al. 2009).
The North American subspecies nivosus, tenuirostris and occidentalis show genetic structuring, but mitochondrial sequence differences between subspecies are comparatively low (< 1%, Funk et al. 2007).
1. Split Kentish Plover from Snowy Plover and adopt ‘Kentish Plover’ for Palaearctic populations
2. Change scientific name of Snowy Plover to Charadrius nivosus (Cassin 1858) with three subspecies: C. nivosus nivosus (currently C. alexandrinus nivosus), C. nivosus tenuirostris (currently C. alexandrinus nivosus) and C. nivosus occidentalis (currently C. alexandrinus occidentalis)
3. Keep scientific name Charadrius alexandrinus (Linneaus 1758) for Kentish Plover
Literature cited:
Funk, W. C., T. D. Mullins, and S. M. Haig. 2007. Conservation genetics of snowy plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus) in the Western Hemisphere: population genetic structure and delineation of subspecies. Conservation Genetics 8:1287-1309.
Küpper, C., J. Augustin, A. Kosztolányi, J. Figuerola, T. Burke, and T. Székely. 2009. Kentish versus Snowy Plover: Phenotypic and genetic analyses of Charadrius alexandrinus reveal divergence of Eurasian and American subspecies. Auk 126:839−852.
Linnaeus, C. 1758. Systema naturae per regna tria naturae :secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. 10th edition
Oberholser, H. C. 1922. Notes on North American birds. XI. Auk 39:72-78.
Vielliot, J. 1818. Ornithologie.
Submitted by:
Clemens Küpper, Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath, Bath, BA2 7AY, UK
Tamás Székely, Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath, Bath, BA2 7AY, UK
Terry Burke, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, S10 2TN
Date of proposal: 23 Dec 2009

This link takes you to PDF file “Proposal 2010-A“, you can read the AOU document from which the above was extracted. Some of the other items of interest under consideration by the AOU and discussed in this document are:

1). Split Mountain Chickadee Poecile gambeli into two species:
A). Gambel’s Chickadee P. gambeli including subspecies P.g. gambeli, P.g. grinelli, P.g. inyoensis, P.g. wasatchensis.
B). Bailey’s Chickadee Poecile baileyae – the coastal California, Sierra Nevada, and Cascade populations, including subspecies: P.b. baileyae, P.b. abbreviatus, P.b. atratus.

2). Split the Common Moorhen (or Gallinule) Gallinula chloropus into:
A). Old World species Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
B). New World species Common Gallinule Gallinula galeata. An alternative English name suggested is Laughing Gallinule due to its distinctive call.

3). Split Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata into two, three, or four species. You read that right! This one is really up in the air. If any of the proposed splits are accepted, our local subspecies D.c. auduboni will again be classified a full species, D.auduboni, probably again known as Audubon’s Warbler (the name which some of us have never stopped using).

4). Farther afield, yet fascinating to bird-geeks like me, the Sapayoa Sapayoa aenigma may get its own monotypic family, Sapayoidae. The species name aenigma (enigma) is extremely apt, as this little bird of Central Panama to extreme NW Ecuador continues to bamboozle ornithologists. Depending on which organization or ornithologist is talking, it’s a Mannakin, or a Tyrant Flycatcher, or in it’s own family, or a Broadbill, or even an Asity (a small family of 4 species endemic to Madagascar). Twenty years ago, Sibley & Monroe classified it incertae sedis (“uncertain position” or “We don’t know what the heck it is!”), and many Central/South American field guides still classify it as such. The Broadbill classification seems very odd to me, as the 15 recognized species of Broadbills are all Old World species, found in various tropical localities from Sierra Leone in west Africa to the central Philippine Islands. To be some sort of Broadbill would mean that the Sapayoa has somehow maintained it’s existence and integrity as a species for at least 52 million years, which seems extraordinary. I suspect that the dust will not soon settle on where the Sapayoa belongs on the evolutionary tree of birds. Don Roberson of Monterey, Ca., has a nice picture and write-up of this bird’s story on his website Birds Families of the World.    [Chuck Almdale]

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