Short-tailed albatross may be two species

Discussion about the evolution, relationships, and naming of New Zealand birds
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Peter Frost
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Short-tailed albatross may be two species

Postby Peter Frost » Sun Nov 22, 2020 7:36 am

Although referring to a seabird a long way from our shores, the following paper may be of interest, if only to alert us to the possibility of this issue of cryptic species being a wider one among the many oceanic seabird species that show strong philopatry:

Eda, M., Yamasaki, T., Izumi, H. et al. (2020) Cryptic species in a vulnerable seabird: short-tailed albatross consists of two species. Endangered Species Research, 43, 375-386.

The occurrence of cryptic species within a threatened taxon is rare, but where they do occur, understanding species boundaries is essential for planning an effective conservation strategy. The short-tailed albatross Phoebastria albatrus is a Vulnerable seabird that mainly breeds on Torishima and the Senkaku Islands in the western North Pacific. Although it has been tacitly regarded as a single management unit with 2 breeding sites, the species is known to comprise 2 genetically separated populations (Senkaku-type and Torishima-type). However, morphological examination of birds from both populations has not been conducted owing to the difficulty in accessing the Senkaku Islands. In this study, we examined the morphological differences between immigrants from the Senkaku Islands to Torishima (Senkaku-type) and native birds on Torishima (Torishima-type) and found significant differences in morphological characteristics between the 2 bird types. In general, Torishima-type birds were larger than Senkaku-type birds, whereas Senkaku-type birds had relatively longer beaks. Based on the morphological differences found in this study as well as genetic and ecological differences revealed in previous studies, we believe that Senkaku- and Torishima-type birds should be classified as different cryptic species. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first case of cryptic species being identified in a threatened avian species.

You can get the paper at


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