2016-A-1: Elevate Aphelocoma californica woodhouseii to species rank

YES. Probably one of the most detailed molecular analyses of a hybrid zone between two near-species populations. Interesting stuff going on, but overall it is clear there is very little introgression at anything other than a micro-geographical scale, arguing for widespread selection against hybrids. The behavioral, vocal, and morphological divergence argue for species status as well.

YES. Although they do interbreed, the hybrid zone is narrow and there is evidence for negative selection; they show ecological differences correlated with morphological differences; there are vocal differences; and they form a strongly divergent clade. However, based on xeno-canto’s sample, I can’t agree with the characterization of vocalizations as differing in primarily being 1- vs. 2-noted, and the pitch differences seem obscure, but other weak vocal differences do seem to exist.

YES. They differ in ecology, morphology, vocalizations, and genetics. Gene flow occurs only in a small contact zone; the two proposed species are maintaining their integrity in the face of this limited gene flow and will continue to do so. As Irby points out, steep cline shape also strengthens the argument for splitting.

YES. The situation in Western Scrub-jays is similar to that between Oak/Juniper Titmice, also Sagebrush/Bell’s Sparrows. The sharp and coincident clines in ecology, morphology, genetics, and (qualitatively) vocalizations together support a split.

YES. There is little question in my mind that this group falls into that grey zone where either outcome (one species or two) is perfectly reasonable based on both the available information and the fact that speciation itself is a process that often lacks clear breakpoints. The main reason that I vote in favor of the split is that the hybrid zone is now shown to be small and the clines within it (for mtDNA, nuclear loci, and phenotypic traits) are all very steep, suggesting that they are either very recent or that some form of negative selection is acting against hybrids. Whether via Haldane’s Rule or some other mechanism, that probable selection against hybrids is a form of reproductive isolation. The new paper by Gowen et al. is fairly strong in terms of sample size and geographic targeting. Also on my mind is the fact that there are a number of other North American birds that we recognize as full species that seem analogous to these jays in terms of their differentiation and propensity to hybridize with closely related species.

YES. A split seems in order, but I do not know these birds well, and would tend to follow others who know more.

YES. I’ve really struggled with this one for weeks. With the comment in the motion that the Pine Nut Mountains, the range just to the north of Topaz Lake on the CA/NV line (US 395 runs along the west side of these mountains), “all variety from possible F1’s to advanced backcrosses,” it’s hard to get enthusiastic for a split under the BSC concept. After all, here’s the ideal situation, a location where the two species are sympatric and they don’t seem to behave as separate species. The situation is just as Pitelka described more than a half century ago. On the other hand, the AOU split off insularis as its own species and genetically it is more closely related to the coastal californica group than either is to the woodhouseii. Yes, no hybrids, but probably the 20 miles of separating ocean has something to do with this. Can anyone seriously argue, that if we built a broad causeway from the mainland to Santa Cruz Island with loads of live oaks with acorns and coastal birds made it to the island, there wouldn’t be hybridization on a level of the Pine Nut Mountains? The woodhouseii group has always struck me as more different from the coastal group than the coastal group is from the island birds on the basis of plumage, vocalizations, and especially behavior and this is apparently supported genetically as well. I consider the status quo as unacceptable. Either lump insularis and risk a law suit from Island Packers (the company that ferries people (birders!) to Santa Cruz Island or split off the woodhouseii group. Please explain an argument for maintaining the status quo.

There are some statements in the motion that I don’t completely agree with. Perhaps the one that raised my eyebrows the most is that the Pine Nut Mountains are the only smooth transition of oak forests of CA into pinyon dominated ecosystems of the Great Basin. And “to these populations are separated by vast expanses of unsuitable habitat.” When one goes south along US 395, there is plenty of suitable logo-auk-aou.png” border=”0″ width=”240″ height=”146″ habitat (especially just to the east) for woodhouseii, yet they are uncommon, perhaps even rare. Just to the north in Gardnerville, Minden, Carson City, and Reno, there are lots of californica type scrub jays. Indeed on a typical drive north along the 395 you don’t see any scrub jays until just north of Topaz Lake and then right on cue there they are sitting up on pinyon pines and tame as can be and they are nearly all (right there) coastal types. To the west in the high Sierra Nevada there are no scrub jays. Farther north in northeast CA where there is seemingly lots of appropriate habitat for woodhouseii types (for instance east side of Eagle Lake) they are all californica types. As one goes south one doesn’t leave appropriate habitat for woodhouseii  (even though seldom seen) until just south of Sherwin Summit when the habitat (pinyons) runs out. The Owens Valley lacks both types, except as fall/winter strays (woodhouseii greatly predominates, but a few well-documented californica too). The exception is just north of Independence, where Independence Creek has oaks, I believe Canyon Live Oaks, and here there are californica scrub jays, and lots of them, sitting up and as obvious as can be. And, as one goes south along the east side of the Sierra there are other east Sierra canyons with oaks that also have californica scrub jays. One has to go across the Owens Valley and up the west side of the White and Inyo Mountains to say 6000’ before getting into pinyons and picking up woodhouseii. Here then  the two groups are essentially parapatric. Vagrancy in woodhouseii is well established. It turns up irregularly in the Salton Sink where there is also one record of a californica. I saw a woodhouseii  type at McGurk Meadow, Yosemite National Park, well west of the Sierra Nevada crest at 7000′.

I don’t think one appreciates just how different behaviorally they are. The woodhouseii group (here represented by narrow billed nevadae) are just very shy. See one perched up on a pinyon pine while driving east through Westgard Pass and just try to get a good view. They drop low and away and more often than not you don’t see them again, even with a good group search effort. The coastal californica birds along Independence Creek just sit there and continue to sit there for extended study when you get out of the car. I have this gut opinion that the californica group is much more aggressive. Perhaps they evicted the woodhouseii group when they came into contact, or mated with some, evicted others.

I note the comment about texana being genetically different from woodhouseii as well as being phenotypically different. Despite range maps showing a continuous range from the Davis Mountains to the Edwards Plateau, I rather suspect that there is a break in eastern/central Pecos County when one drops off the Edwards Plateau. Appropriate habitat doesn’t start again west until the Jeff Davis Mountains, a distance of perhaps 30 or more miles. And it looks pretty grim for any scrub jay between these locations.

Regarding sumichrasti after seeing and especially hearing that taxon in the Valley of Oaxaca, it is hard to believe that it’s part of the woodhouseii group.

If we had known then what we know now regarding the genetic structure of the scrub jay group, would the Committee have still settled on splitting insularis while leaving the others (excluding coerulescens) as a single species?

NO. Intuitively,  I would like to split woodhousei from californica. However, the genetic data does indicate that the taxa seem to mate randomly in the one small area of overlap. There may be selection against the hybrids moving away from that site, but it seems like the lack of introgression is mostly a feature of swamping by the much larger populations of the pure types versus the tiny number of hybrids because of the geography. I think I need something more before I can vote to split woodhousei. Like some others I am not concerned about the lack of monophyly of the combined californica. We expect to see such species whenever you have a small isolate separated out from a large widespread species.

NO. I do not support this split. Paraphyly is not relevant at this level. Taxonomy should not be modified to reflect mtDNA phylogenies at the species level in many cases; this seems like one: an island form colonist can readily speciate while mainland forms continue to be able to interbreed, regardless of which mtDNA lineage stochastically established itself with the island colonist. So I completely discount this argument (way too heavily made) in the proposal. The important new information is data from the contact zone. As STRUCTURE analysis shows, microsatellite gene flow in the hybrid zone is rampant (and, aside, clusters in STRUCTURE are not equivalent to species, as many other vertebrate studies have shown; genetic distinctiveness is fairly easily achieved). There does not appear to be any evidence of assortative mating, though I agree with Gowen et al. (p.9) that the difference in cline widths between mitochondrial and nuclear DNA “suggests a measure of reproductive isolation.” That “measure” does not seem to be sufficient to be materially affecting hybrids in the contact zone, and the permeation of unlike genotypes far into the ranges of the other type in Fig. 3 suggests to me that selection against this gene flow is not sufficient to enable evolutionary separation in the face of the gene flow occurring in the contact zone (I think that for now they are fairly well stuck together evolutionarily). So we have the birds themselves not assortatively mating when they come into contact, creating a remarkably mixed hybrid population and very nice secondary contact hybrid/tension zone that correlates with phenotype. From a biological species perspective, I think these are still subspecies that “have begun the process of reproductive isolation” (Gowen et al. 2014:7).

NO, tentatively and subject to change pending comments from others. The new studies on Aphelocoma genetics are rigorous, fascinating, and important to the study of evolution at the population level. However, this proposal seeks to elevate the woodhouseii group to species rank based on new genetic data that, in my view, do not clearly support that taxonomic treatment. Although presented in support of species rank, my interpretation (open to correction!) is that gene flow is restricted only by the small size of the contact zones and possible selection against hybrids outside the hybrid zone.

The data from Gowen et al. (2014) concerning Haldane’s rule are not particularly convincing to me concerning taxon rank, but I am eager to be convinced otherwise. Gowen et al. (2014) did show that gene flow was “current and frequent, although limited in geographic area. Birds in the Pine Nut Mountains represent all variety of crosses from possible F1s to advanced backcrosses.” My take on this is that in the one area where there is opportunity for a test of reproductive isolation, the two groups treat each other as “same” rather than “different. Although gene flow barely penetrates the parental populations, this is because the contact zone is narrow and because indirect evidence suggests selection against hybrids away from the hybrid zone. A reasonable hypothesis, in my view, is that if the contact zone were much wider, then the signature of that gene flow would be felt deeper into the parental populations. Even if strong selection eliminated most of that flow, the fact remains that the two parental types freely interbreed where given the opportunity. The slight differences in voices evidently have no consequences for reproductive isolation.

That the “current taxonomy does not accurately reflect phylogeny” is not a problem for me (and I’m not alone on this) because paraphyly at the population level is rampant and an inevitable consequence of incomplete genetic isolation and lineage-sorting. Monophyly of course is the sine qua non of taxon delimitation above the species level, but not in my opinion a requirement for species rank. In fact, I’m not sure if the terms “phylogeny” and “monophyly” should be applied at the population level (and I think Hennig would agree) without specifying which loci are sampled and that the labels refer only to the most recent geographic isolating events. A requirement of monophyly at the species level would make it difficult to treat a peripheral isolate that has diverged rapidly from the much larger parental population as a separate species (as in Island Scrub-Jay) because that would likely render any non-panmictic parental taxon paraphyletic due to shared unique loci between the peripheral isolate and the nearest population of the parental species.

More broadly, perhaps the Committee needs to take a stand on what is meant by “reproductive isolation” under the BSC. This is not an easy decision – Mayr himself actually waivered at one point. We all agree that hybridization per se does not constitute reproductive isolation – many taxa we treat as species hybridize to varying degrees. However, none of the taxa that we treat as separate species under a BSC approach “freely interbreed” at contact zones (as far as I know), i.e., mate non-assortatively. The intuitive appeal of this approach is obvious — if two taxa do not treat each other as “different” when it comes to all-important mate choice, then why should we taxonomists? On the other hand, a reasonable case can be made that hybrid zones themselves act as reproductive isolating mechanisms if there is no gene flow beyond the zone in which a hybrid swarm persists because of strong selection against hybrids; this is the view adopted in the current proposal. I lean towards the former (non-assortative mating) because of its intuitive appeal — this is the only taxon rank defined by the behavior of the organisms themselves. No matter how small the contact zone, if the individuals at that contact zone show no signs of assortative mating, then to me that sends a meaningful signal concerning the degree to which the taxa in question have diverged.

2016-A-2: Adopt “Whitestart” as the English surname of species of the genus Myioborus (SACC #63, SACC #171)

YES. I appreciate the arguments on both sides, but think that ‘Whitestart’ is a better name in this particular case.

YES. Although I am generally for stability the English names, the use of “redstart” for species in Myioborus by the NACC is no longer stable. Rogue field guide authors and alternative checklists have embraced the far better name “Whitestart,” such that the NACC and its adherents are nearly alone in using “redstart.” It is time to face the inevitable and adopt the better name. Not doing so makes us look like anachronistic old cranks. Most sources not affiliated with the NACC or SACC use “whitestart.” Google Myioborus for instance. 

A few of you have remarked that passing this proposal would leave the problem of “American Redstart.” I think very few ornithologists/birders have any problem with the name “American Redstart.” We are “stuck” with all sorts of new-world species sharing a the same group name as a similar logo-auk-aou.png” border=”0″ width=”240″ height=”146″ and acting but unrelated Old World species (Robin, Flycatcher, Bunting, Oriole, Warbler etc.), and those names are with us for the long haul. The red in the American Redstart is not that different in tone from the red in many Old World redstarts. At least one Phoenicurus has no red at all. “Orangestart” would have been a better name, but there is no more problem calling Setophaga ruticilla American Redstart than there is calling Turdus migratorius American Robin.

The problem is with species in Myioborus. These are not related at all to Setophaga (or Phoenicurus). Because Myioborus and Setophaga ruticilla share a common faunal region (the New World) and family, it is confusing having unrelated species sharing a distinct name like “redstart” (unlike the more generalized names warbler, sparrow, flycatcher or bunting). The twelve or so species of Myioborus are monophyletic, share a distinct foraging behavior, and a distinct plumage character related to that foraging (white in the tail , which is used to flush (=start) insect prey. As such, the name “whitestart” could not be more fitting, and it clears up a confusion regarding relationships. Only two of the 12 species (Painted and Slate-colored) have more than a little red. A few others have brownish red in the caps. Most species have no red at all.  

NO. Although I agree with the sentiment of this proposal, I agree with others that it doesn’t solve the problem with American Redstart. In addition, as already pointed out, this proposal should probably first be pursued by SACC given the distribution of the species involved?

NO. Historical convention is an important consideration here, as is the fact that the majority of the species in this group fall within the SACC region. That committee should have precedence in deciding whether or not to change these long-standing English names.

NO. I do not like tinkering with English names just to come up with something that seems more appropriate. I feel for the poor folks in the Western Palearctic where the color red appears truly rare. And of course when they do get a Scarlet Tanager in the UK they are in fall, and are green, not red. So, it’s orange, not red, but they call it red anyway. Perhaps we propose that they be more accurate and call it Orange-throated Pipit, and Orange-necked Phalarope and Orange-flanked Bluetail (well here we have some use Orange-flanked Bush-Robin). The tinkering would be endless and long established English names would be dumped and for what reason? Sure, folks wonder about Green Heron, and Ring-necked Duck. And we continue to call our birds tanagers when they are not and other things grassquits when they are tanagers. On it goes. It is an imperfect world. I do favor English name changes when the species is peripheral to our area and where it is more commonly found there is a better established English name (hence Red-necked Stint, not Rufous-necked Sandpiper), or in the case of Oldsquaw we went to Long-tailed Duck for a conservation reason and because there was a well-established English name in the Old World. Yet with the Oldsquaw that is the one I do hear complaining about, though no one who wines knows why the name was changed. So giving a rationale for the English name chosen, or especially for a change is always a good idea (like Chihuahuan Raven). 

NO. For reasons of stability, we can’t go down the road of renaming things for their body part coloration. As Van mentioned, we would then have “American Orangestart” but even that only covers the males. Redstart is no more a confusion problem than flycatcher, warbler, oriole, sparrow, finch etc. And if we looked into the origin of those names we’d likely find many members for which the terms don’t fit.

NO. If we begin changing traditional names to be more accurate descriptors, we’ll undertake an enormously upsetting series of changes that have little positive gain.

NO. For all of the reasons that others have mentioned. I have long thought that the English vernaculars are the most stable part of our nomenclature and it is crazy to mess with it to try to force it to make sense!

NO. This particular proposal is not very helpful. It does not seem to recognize the existence of yet another species of North American redstart, American Redstart, whose name would not be changed by this proposal, and obviously should not be called a whitestart. I believe the possible confusion of Old World Redstarts and New World Redstarts to be a non-issue. We have dozens of examples of unrelated species or species groups with the same group name in English, and many of these are representatives of different families, so we can survive that. As I noted above, the existence of American Redstart means that this proposal would not fix that particular issue here. The problem is that we have clear evidence that American Redstart is embedded deep within an expanded Setophaga, and Myioborus is only distantly related. The use of Redstart from Myioborus is a reflection of the historical fact that these birds were all congeneric at one time in Setophaga. Continuing to use it does have the potential for confusing people as to relative lack of relationship between American Redstart and Myioborus whitestarts. Although I have voted against the use of whitestart for Myioborus multiple times in the past, I think I am ready to consider a well-reasoned argument for that change based on the Setophaga versus Myioborus issue. But as this proposal does not even acknowledge the issue, I won’t vote for the change to whitestart at this time.

NO. See SACC proposals 63 and 171 for more rhetoric than you can possibly digest on this topic. The current proposal omits the problem of “American Redstart,” which shares the same problem – it is also not a “true” Phoenicurus redstart, and its tail is also not red, but rather unambiguously and conspicuously orange. If we changed the long-standing surnames of Myioborus to Whitestart, then we should also change the even longer-standing name American Redstart to “American Orangestart.” Are you ready for that? These contrived names are an unnecessary assault on stability for the sake of a cutesy, concocted solution to a classic “red herring” problem. If we are worried about birds in these three genera sharing a name that might mislead some into thinking they formed a monophyletic group, then why should we stop there? Should all species in the Parulidae called currently “Warbler” be renamed as “Wood-Warbler” because they aren’t true warblers in the sense of not being members of the Old World warbler families? Our warblers don’t even warble. What about our Yellow-breasted “Chat” and our “Ovenbird.”

The core argument of the proposal is that the derivation of the “start” portion of “Redstart” leads to confusion: ” ‘Start’ of course is the modern English reflex of Middle English stert, Old English steort, tail of an animal. North American species to which we attribute the errant English name “Redstart” all have the prominent white outer tail feathers characteristic of the genus Myioborus.” I will go out on a limb and say that NOT ONCE in the history of New World ornithology has someone stopped midstream while trying to identify a Myioborus or Setophaga redstart and said to themselves, “oh my gosh, no, that cannot be a ‘redstart’ because of course the ‘start’ clearly refers to the Modern English reflexive of Middle English stert.”

Another critical piece of the proposal’s argument is that the recent addition of Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus to the NACC list will cause widespread confusion. What the proposal does not mention, however, is that we have somehow managed to survive the addition of several Old World flycatchers to the NACC list, with the same surname as our unrelated tyrannid flycatchers, without ornithology grinding to a halt. So, the proposal’s claim that continued use of Redstart is “misleading,” causes “widespread confusion on naming conventions,” and interferes with field identification represents classic hyperbole. By the way, note that “the” redstarts of the genus Phoenicurus are themselves devoid of any red in their tails. The color is orange-rufous, similar to that of our “Red”-tailed Hawk.

More broadly, many English names are misleading to one degree or another, and the matches of surnames to phylogeny are increasingly rare as DNA sequence data continue to reveal previously undetected convergence in plumage and morphology. Long-established English names should be changed only in extreme cases because stability is a primary purpose of standardized English name schemes. (And … I can’t resist … when they are embarrassing, like “Inca” Dove and “Pelagic” Cormorant.)

As I see it, there are 4 arguments for changing to Whitestart.

1. “Whitestart” is a better name. I agree, it’s a slightly better name, albeit contrived. But we have hundreds of cases in which there would or could be slightly better names. And we have some cases, one rejected by this Committee, in which we have at least one WRONG name, allowed to stand because of concerns for stability: “Inca” Dove. (and then there is also “Pelagic” Cormorant and “Mountain” Plover, among others).

2. “Redstart” is misleading descriptively for Myioborus because they do not have red in their “start” aka tail (as if anyone knows that “start” is Middle English for tail). I agree, to some degree, but this name is no more misleading than many current names. (I will also repeat that no Phoenicurus redstart or Setophaga ruticilla has any true red anywhere in its plumage, so the name itself is inaccurate for them … in contrast to Myioborus pictus and M. miniatus, which actually have true red in their plumage).

3. “Redstart” is misleading taxonomically because Myioborus are neither Phoenicurus or Setophaga. Valid argument, but we have many such cases, including even more misleading names., taxonomically, like Tanager for the Piranga cardinalines. (By the way, note that Kentucky Warbler appears to be embedded among the Geothlypis Yellowthroats, but no one is moving to changing it to Kentucky Yellowthroat.)

None of the three above arguments in themselves or combined is, for me, sufficient reason to change at the sacrifice of a century or more of stability.

That leaves:

4. Adoption of “Whitestart” by IOC and BirdLife International/HBW (as noted by Andy). This is what separates this particular issue from any other — Whitestart, for better or worse, has caught on in some circles. However, I confess that I resent it that these organizations, completely Europe-based in the case of BLI/HBW and with a strong Euro component in the case of the IOC, do not honor standardized AOU names. We wouldn’t think of adopting such an arrogant stance for taxa that occurred exclusively in Europe! In fact, we specifically follow BOU names (for better or worse) for primarily Palearctic taxa. Very annoying to the point of being insulting. Andy pointed out that  the only sources that use Redstart are those that follow AOU. Well, what’s wrong with that? Isn’t that the way it should be for W. Hemisphere bird names? The “corollary” is that the “only” sources that use Whitestart are those that follow IOC. I really don’t understand the logic. If some source were to adopt “Orangestart,” then of course the only ones who used Orangestart would be the ones who follow that source, with a consequent explosion of Google hits.

Like so many “last names,” I think they are best treated as referring to ecomorphs. For me, “Redstart” in parulids refers to the ecomorph of using tail-flashing to flush arthropods and then actively pursue them — S. ruticilla and Myioborus may not be sister taxa but they are indeed convergent on a shared foraging behavior that is unique in the family (at least other than Hooded Warbler, I think).

2016-A-3: Lump Common Redpoll Acanthis flammea and Hoary Redpoll A. hornemanni into a single species


2016-A-4: Revise generic assignments of woodpeckers in the genus Picoides

YES. Fuchs and Pons present strong molecular evidence that species that we currently have in Picoides are distributed among several different, unrelated, clades. I think that lumping Leuconotopicus with Veniliornis may be better, given that they form a well-supported clade, and that the node lumping borealis to the other Leuconotopicus is not as well supported. The only drawback with this would be that Veniliornis s.l. forms such a nice, well-supported, strictly South American clade. 

NO, but only because other committee members have indicated that new woodpecker studies will be published soon. However, if these studies aren’t due to be published in the next year, I would happily change my vote to YES. It seems like we have waited a long time already to deal with known paraphyly in this case.

NO. Changes are required, but I’d prefer to see the results of new studies of this group that are underway.

NO. But only pending trees based on larger dataset. Also: this is not a problem since the proposal is really based on the published taxonomic recommendations in Fuchs and Pons 2015, but the phylogeny included in the proposal itself is only the mtDNA subset of that study, not the more informative trees based on the full dataset.

NO for now. Changes are clearly needed, but we should wait if we know that other studies are in progress.

NO. I can appreciate that the genus as constituted is too broadly defined, but the suggested arrangement doesn’t seem right. Under the proposal, the genus leuconotopicus with White-headed, Arizona, Strickland’s, Hairy, Red-cockaded and Smoky-brown also seems to include some pretty different logo-auk-aou.png” border=”0″ width=”240″ height=”146″ and acting species. And Hairy and Downy in separate genera? Well, perhaps, as Greater Flameback (Crysocolaptes lucidus) is placed in another genus from the other flamebacks (Dinopium). I’m certainly open to being convinced.

NO. Not yet. With Veniliornis embedded within Picoides as we currently recognize it (putting aside the unfortunately old taxonomy Fuchs and Pons 2015 chose to use) and the three-toeds being a readily defined clade morphologically outside it, a revision is needed. But with nodes like that supporting Leuconotopicus being weak and a lack of a compelling explanation for why some of the generic limits were drawn, I think it would be better to make a revision when more comprehensive datasets are available.

NO. It is clear that something needs to be done, beyond the changes we (and SACC) have already made. But it seems that  we should wait for studies that people are aware with additional data before making wholesale changes.

NO. Changes need to be made but since other studies are in progress, better to await those results, or changes we make now may require further change or even reversal.

NO, at least for now, and pending comments from others. After the rest of the New World taxa are removed from Picoides, the decision as to where to draw the line delimiting these genera is to some degree arbitrary. The problem of monophyly has other solutions in addition to the one in the proposal, such as expanding Veniliornis (the genus name with priority) to include all taxa once Picoides is restricted the two “3-toed” species. The nodes for that treatment are as close to the depth in the tree to the ones that unite the other groups for which Fuchs & Pons recommended genus rank (Picoides, Dendrocopos, Dendropicos, Leiopicus; resurrection of Dendrocoptes not well-supported in their analyses).

The degree of polyphyly in Fig. 1 of Fuchs and Pons is exaggerated because their classification is out-of-date by 8 years.  For example, their “Veniliornis” fumigatus was transferred to Picoides by SACC in 2007 and by NACC not long after. Their “Picoides” mixtus and “Picoides” lignarius were also transferred to Veniliornis in 2007. The original data for those changes was published in 2006, nearly 10 years ago. 

Another reason to vote no is that I am aware of at least three ongoing studies on the family, all of which are using more advanced genetic techniques than sequencing the four loci by Fuchs and Pons (2015). Nonetheless, the support values in their tree are high, and I suspect that additional studies might not change the topology that much. I also suspect that a time-calibrated tree will show that the groups Fuchs & Pons ranked as genera are old and worthy of genus rank despite their rather striking morphological and vocal similarity because their proposed Dryobates includes lineages from both the New World and Old World (minor, i.e. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, and cathpharius of the Himalayas); these must have diverged 5-10 million years ago. In general, morphological evolution in the Picidae appears to be very conservative. Therefore, my “no” vote is labile depending on what others say.

2016-A-5: Split Cuban Bullfinch Melopyrrha nigra into two species

YES, based on song and morphological differences. Rapid evolution/speciation in this case doesn’t surprise me, given that Melopyrrha is closely related to Darwin’s finches.

YES. The calls on xeno-canto sound really different to me and that alone is sufficient for me to split.

YES, the morphological differences are fairly profound and differences in calls are consistent with species status.

YES. The vocal differences are compelling to me.

YES. Although I would agree that the morphological differences between the Cuban and Cayman populations are essentially irrelevant to species (vs. subspecies) rank, the differences in the vocalizations, as portrayed in sonograms of two individuals from each population seem dramatic, and these differences are strengthened by other quantitative comparisons (with larger N) in the text. To me, it is clear that in terms of voice, these two tanagers (yes, tanagers!) have diverged to the level associated with species rank in this group of birds. Of course playback experiments would provide further evidence one way or another, but I think that those sonograms clearly place burden of proof on the single-species treatment. I cannot think of another example in the Thraupidae or related families in which taxa that divergent in song are treated as conspecific (and if there are any, we need a proposal on them.)

As for dismissal of song differences in oscines as merely learned rather than genetic, this oversimplification continues to plague reasoning in such decisions. Although, yes, oscines learn their song, experiments also show that they have a strong innate tendency to learn their “own” song (down to subspecies), given the choice. Thus, there is a strong genetic component to what is learned. Also, some features of the song are inherited in some species, and it is the non-inherited features that are responsible for dialect formation. Empirically, regardless of degree of learning, vocal differences are associated with species-level differences in sympatric and parapatric songs of oscines, just they way they are in suboscines and nonpasserines.

NO. There is very little argument for reproductive isolation. Because songs in 9-primaried oscines are learned, differences in songs do not necessarily entail heritable genetic differences. Call-note vocalizations may not be learned and may argue for longer separation, but the effects on reproductive isolation are not known. Playback experiments would have been nice.

NO. I don’t see anything compelling in this proposal that would argue for species status versus continuing to recognize them as subspecies. The vocal differences are probably most suggestive, but I would like to see playback experiments as well as some genetic data before splitting these.

NO. Song differences in birds that have substantial learned components to their songs should be used as the basis for splits only with substantial caution.

NO. These differences fit those of subspecies, and no effort is made to compare the magnitude of these differences with closely related species to illustrate that they would likely be sufficient for reproductive isolation or assortative mating. And, as the proposal states, we do not recognize similar levels of difference as being species-level differences among other taxa with island subspecies.

NO. 1 without comment.

2016-A-6: Split Rufous-naped Wood-Rail Aramides albiventris from Grey-necked Wood-Rail A. cajaneus
(Subcommittee formed to come up with acceptable English names)

YES. 2 without comment.

YES. But I would have appreciated a bit more analysis in the motion as to how the calls differed. They had fewer samples on xeno-canto on Rufous-naped.

YES. Here, the song differences are not learned.

YES. Vocal differences are huge and correlate with sharp morphological boundary.

YES. This seems pretty straightforward based on the large-scale vocal differences.

YES. The vocal differences and sharp parapatric changes in phenotype are very compelling.

YES. Although the plumage differences and the morphological differences are rather minor, the abrupt change argues for reproductive isolation. The vocalizations are so different and varied it makes you wonder what are homologous. There is a cut from NE Costa Rica on xeno-canto (XC140615), which should be albiventris, but sounds a bit more like cajaneus to me, but still it is quite different. The vocalizations provide in in the proposal (links to LNS) are staggeringly different.

YES. The vocal differences alone are convincing, but the parapatry with no sign of gene flow is the nail in the coffin. I think that a separate proposal is needed, however, on English names because retention of Gray-necked Wood-Rail for restricted A. cajaneus will cause confusion. We do not always follow the guideline of new names for all daughters from a split, but in cases in which we retain the parental name for one of the daughters, the asymmetry in range size is typically much greater than in this case (classic example is Red-shouldered and Red-winged blackbirds; counter-example that is too late to correct is California and Black-tailed gnatcatchers).

YES. The song differences are stunning, and corroborate well the sharp parapatric changes in phenotype.

2016-A-7: Move Motacillidae and Prunellidae to the “core passeridans”

YES. 2 without comment.

YES. Seems straightforward.

YES. Not controversial.

YES to all parts of this proposal.

YES to A1, A2, B1, and B2. If others present good reasons not to follow Cracraft’s placement I may change my votes on A2 and B2.

YES. Move Motacillidae into core passeridans, as sister to Fringillidae-Emberizoidea.

YES. Long overdue – this one has slipped through the cracks. The genetic data are overwhelmingly consistent in placing these two families with the former “9-primaried oscines.”

YES, to both parts and sub-parts of B. This change is overdue, and while I agree that we don’t have a solid place to put Prunellidae, our checklist area is not heavily affected by it and I’m fine with getting it close enough for now.

YES. Move Prunellidae into the “core passeridans.” We can move it next to Peucedramidae without claiming it to be its sister taxon. In the Notes we can then add that DNA sequences indicate that Prunellidae may be sister to Peucedramidae, but the support for this relationship is weak.

NO. Perhaps I’m missing something but Cracraft says there is only “weak to moderate branch support” for the placement of both families. I certainly see nothing in common between the tree top loving Olive Warblers and ground skulking accentors, but then flamingoes and grebes as sister groups doesn’t seem obvious either. In any event until there is strong branch support for exact placement why not leave things as is? 

2016-A-8: Change the linear sequence of genera in the family Odontophoridae

YES. 3 without comment.

YES. Not controversial.

YES. No reason to delay the rearrangement.

YES. Strong support for this change.

YES. The data for generic relationships seem strong.

YES. Evidence is strong for the relationships expressed in the proposed sequence.

YES. Data strongly support this required bookkeeping change in linear sequence.

YES. Hard for me to care much about this one, but new order represents the data well, it seems.

2016-A-9: Merge Caribbean Coot Fulica caribaea into American Coot F. americana

YES. 2 without comment.

YES. Now can we get on to those Northwestern Crows?

YES. The evidence (weak morphological differences, non-assortative mating) provide clear support for merging these taxa.

YES. Proposal lays out the evidence nicely, and the lack of assortative mating in sympatry plus the non-diagnostic single phenotypic difference makes this a strong case for lumping.

YES. Ever since Roberson and Baptista, keeping these two as separate species seemed peculiar. Nobody in Florida, or even the ABA Area, even looks for Caribbean Coots anymore, and I bet most birders and ornithologists probably assumed that we have already lumped them. With a bit more new data it is far past time to lump.

YES. The data on non-assortative mating are compelling. However, I would recommend retaining the forms as subspecies.

YES. Non-assortative mating and no consistent morphological differences mean they haven’t speciated.

YES. Non-assortative mating at the contact zone is sufficient evidence for treating these two as conspecific. In fact, as far as I know there are essentially no data to support the continuing treatment as separate species.

YES. Caribbean Coot was never a very satisfying species. There was a brief period when records of Caribbean Coot in Florida became all the rage, but even at this time, well away from the locations of these possible vagrant Caribbean Coots there were reports of coots with the Caribbean phenotype. I remember seeing such a bird in Arizona, that I jokingly called a “Caribbean Coot.” I can see no reason for maintaining Caribbean Coot as a species. This is a change we should have made a long time ago, since Roberson and Baptista in 1988 completely undermined the morphological basis for Caribbean Coot as a distinct entity.

On the English name, given the fact that American Coot has a massive range compared to “Caribbean Coot” and that we’ve already fooled with the range and make-up of American Coot near the edge of its range in South America without changing its name, I see no reason from not maintaining American Coot. 

2016-A-10: Revise the classification of the Caprimulgiformes

YES. 6 without comment.

YES. The non-monophyly of the current classification necessitates change, and the great morphological diversity, coupled with aligning the classification with estimates of ages of splits, argues for giving oilbirds, potoos, nightjars, and hummingbird/swifts ordinal levels.

YES, but using the same criteria the Apodiformes should probably be split into two orders as well. A future proposal?

YES. I have seen treatments in which hummingbirds are treated as Caprimulgiformes, which seems difficult to swallow. This seems like it is clearly the best treatment of this group. Splitting the swifts and hummingbirds into separate orders is something we should consider, but not necessary to making this change.

YES. Actually, I recall the discordant note of extreme age in Nyctibiidae coming out in Brumfield et al. (1997), and recall this nice quote: “An isozyme analysis of genetic differentiation among the procellariiform families (Barrowclough et al. 1981) found an average interfamilial genetic distance….less than that found among potoo species.” (Brumfield et al. 1997:142 [Ornithol. Monogr. 48]).

2016-A-11: Split Momotus momota into two or three species (SACC #412)

YES on A, B, and C. 2 without comment.

YES, three species. I prefer Lesson’s Motmot to Blue-diademed Motmot. How many people have ever seen the word “diademed?”

YES on A, B, and C. Note that A and B have already been adopted by SACC based on Stiles (2009). Note that C would be novel, but that no data have ever been published to reverse the classification justified by Chapman’s (1923) paper. I think Doug’s point on Blue-diademed combined with objections to use of obscure “diademed” makes “Lesson’s” the winner.  Lesson also doesn’t have any birds named after him.

YES on A, B, and C. I asked Steve Howell about this and he first commented “thanks for asking.” He had nothing to offer regarding vocalizations within the northeastern Mexico group, coeruliceps, suggesting we listen to xeno-canto. He was not opposed to this split and suggested Blue-capped Motmot for the English name. I think this is an excellent choice and describes exactly the difference (the top of the crown). As for birds farther south, he felt that Blue-diademed Motmot was a good name. Keeping Blue-crowned for these birds, or even worse for coeruliceps just invites confusion.

YES on A, B, and C. (A) vocal differences are important, as well as minor plumage differences. Vocal differences are probably important at the species level in this group; momota (ss) and aequitoralis, similar in plumage but different in calls, are nearly parapatric along 1000 km at the base of the Andes without any introgression. (B) Vocalizations differ, like lessonii and subrufescens. Extralimital so it is best to follow SACC. (C) The blue cap of coeruliceps is the most distinctive plumage difference in the whole complex. English names: M. lessonii Blue-diademed Motmot, M. subrufescens Whooping Motmot, M. coeruliceps Blue-capped Motmot.

(A) YES to split lessonii/coeruliceps from momotus/subrufescens on the basis of distinctly two-(three-) note songs of the former vs. single-note songs or run-together notes of the latter. (B) YES to split subrufescens from momotus on the basis of long song notes of former vs. short run-together notes of the latter. (C) YES to split coeruliceps from lessonii on the basis of abrupt morphological discontinuity greater than that seen in other taxa considered distinct species, only the one apparent hybrid known (or at least clearly indicated as such in the literature) from a well-sampled area, and also vocal differences. While the song of coeruliceps sounds similar in pattern and quality to lessonii, the Florida Tamaulipas cuts and the XC Lane cut of song show coeruliceps to have a slower delivery (greater pause between syllables) than for lessonii. This degree of difference seems equivalent in magnitude to the differences between some of the SA taxa like bahamensis vs. momotus.

YES, three species. I think the failure to split coeruleiceps would not be consistent with the treatment now being followed for the rest of the Momotus momota complex, so I think we need to split it. The problem with Blue-diademed Motmot for lessonii is that in AOU 98 notes Blue-diademed is applied to the nominate momotus group that we now call Amazonian Motmot. Given that, I guess I lean toward Lesson’s Motmot for lessonii (which also was described by Lesson; not sure how that happened). Whooping seems fine for subrufescens and lessoni.  I think we cannot continue to use Blue-crowned for coeruleiceps, because of its long-term use for the entire complex. My thoughts are maybe Blue-capped or Cerulean-crowned.

YES to A and B, and NO to C (i.e., two species). Stiles’ work on this for the first two makes the decision on this easy. While I think that Van is probably right on C (the lowland region where the two taxa are likely parapatric has been well explored and only the one intergrade noted by Chapman is readily discernible in the literature), given the evidence that there is some intergradation I’d prefer to see a more solid and published analysis of this phenomenon through the contact zone. I have little doubt that such work will fully merit re-elevation of coeruliceps and lessonii to full species and look forward to seeing it done. I am ok with Lesson’s Motmot.

NO. But really only because these are unpublished comparisons included in the proposal (if I am wrong please let me know). I think it is wise to continue to require that all of our revisions be based on published information. If this passes, then Yes to “Blue-capped Motmot” and “Lesson’s Motmot.”