Discussion and plight of NZs subspecies

General birdwatching discussion, help with bird identification, and all other things relating to wild birds and birding in NZ that don't fit in one of the other forums.
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Discussion and plight of NZs subspecies

Postby fras444 » Thu May 21, 2020 7:03 pm

I'd like to have a discussion about some of our not so unique birds and discuss our subspecies, natives and recent arrivals. Pick the brains of some of the experts here and just in general, a open discussion with anyone and everyone thoughts, ideas and what they know

New Zealand's location in the world, on the prevailing wind side of Australia has brought about a unique situation in the natural world.. One of which that very few other countries share..
Not only do we have/had a many endemic species, we also have this very complex and unique situation where a former native species from Australia develops over time and has now become either. A distinct endemic subspecies i.e Morepork/Fantail, some that are newly described as endemic (Red-billed gulls, NZ pitpit) and some species that are closer in that grey area of being endemic/native zone i.e Pied shag and some yo yo between described as a subspecies or just a native species... Grey duck, Shoveler. We also have just plain native species that we share with Australia and we are constantly recording new natives all the time.

Without birds coming over from Australia and not realising the importance Australian blown birds have on our constantly changing scene, we would never have the likes of the Kiwi, Kaka, Kakapo and the like. Especially in times such as these where our current rare endemics are facing uncertain times and what pressures new "native" arrivals on some of these birds, I guess its essential to find out what we as humans should or shouldn't do regarding controlling an recent arrival that establishes itself here, understanding that the Kaka or Kakariki could have been a Rosella or a Cockatoo in the past...

So firs up as the title of this subject....

The plight of our subspecies....

We will focus on in this topic and discuss what makes a subspecies and when does one considered almost unique enough to be considered NOT just... a rare bird breeding in NZ but common elsewhere. But a unique subspecies in its own right worth investing in saving and when does a subspecies makes that jump in becoming a fully fledged species

I feel this is an important subject and discussion to bring up especially in the world of conservation and how far do we go in regards to financially supporting a rare species in NZ that is flourishing elsewhere around the world at the cost of something more closer to home. The unique Kakapo for example.

For all of those new birders out there that are going to university to study their passion... This is something that I feel, would be a great study.
Each one of you to select a subspecies so study, do some genetic research between the Australian birds and our NZ birds to see what of our sub species are just 'native and what are more endemic/unique than one actually thinks.

SO from all of the experts on this forum!!!

What makes a subspecies?

I have below a list of all of our birds minus the oceanic birds that are listed as subspecies. What differences do these birds actually propose from the Australian equivalent. What are the varying levels that subspecies go through to of which when does a subspecies become a nationally significant/unique subspecies? If some of these species are that unique, what steps should then be in place to preserve the subspecies and elevate them to a full species. When does a subspecies become an endemic? What stage does a rare subspecies require urgent/extensive help and finance should a that species become rare/critically endangered...? Remembering that these birds are next on the list of becoming as unique as our Kiwi and the like. What steps should be in place that you guys feel should they be threatened with extinction. Should we be culling other native species to save another native species.

Also regards to birders. Can you nationalise a subspecies as in ticking off three or four sub species in a birding perspective?? I.E ticking of the Pied shag in Australia and in NZ vs ticking off a Red-billed gull/silver gull

Here is a list of birds that I can think of, excluding the our seabirds and the like, that are listed as a subspecies here in New Zealand and lets discuss and share from reports and what each and every one of us knows about these birds. What do we know about these birds already, be it genetics and physical/observable differences that makes these birds a sub specie and regarding the level of how old these subspecies are and how long they have been separated from Australian birds how far away are they of becoming endemics.

Also to note...
Genetics play a big part of this I am guessing.... Which of these species are physically so separated from Australia, that any genetic flow between the populations are so minimal in keeping a common link between the two that dilution is almost irrelevant... i.e Moreporks and Boobooks

Lets start with
Moreporks and Fantails
I have this feeling that these birds have to be one of our oldest subspecies. I'm only going off reading old bird books from yesteryear, these would be described as native subspecies in these older books now endemic species in newer books and nzbirdsonline. How separated are they from their Aussie ancestors.

Red-billed Gull: Endemic subspecies that is now falling in numbers... how significant different is this population from Australia. Some of the latest articles that I have read suggest that this is now recognised as distinctly separate from the silver gulls. Do you guys agree with these being a species outright including as a tickable species?? What about overlaps between the two? Guessing they are a mobile species as far as a gull would fly over open water.... Any distinct physical features between the two? Any possible genetic flow/dilution between populations

The reason why research into subspecies is so important... The Fairy tern and the Grey Duck.... Are we losing a potentially unique species forever or is it just a variation and money better spent on something that is actually unique and endangered....

Fairy Tern: A great example of a common... well... listed as vulnerable bird elsewhere but our subspecies is now one of our rarest species and..

Grey duck: Some could argue that its all but extinct in New Zealand is this a unique enough subspecies that should require urgent care on the scale of kakapo or just bring some birds from Australia and she will be alright... Nobody will notice kind of approach.....

Blue penguin: What are the general suggestions with these birds. Are they a subspecies, how different, genetically and physically are they to penguins found in Australia and are they still regarded as up to four subspecies within NZ...? Like the Red-billed gull being more so normadic... Overlap with birds in Australia

I find the Shags a very interesting one!!!! I don't see them as being the most dispersive of birds although thermals and a strong westerly wind.... Apart from the Little Blacks.... Some could say all of our Shags are endemic.....

Little Shag: Apart from being predominantly black here in NZ are these birds genetically distinct from Australian little shags... Are they endemic enough to New Zealand? Pied variation part of our subspecies or is it a link to the Australian birds... Then there was a pair that bred in the Campbells I read somewhere... How would you know in the 70s?? Are they distinct?

Black Shag: Various books suggest and have labelled our Black Shag as a subspecies and endemic.

Pied Shag: Subspecies and endemic. Unlike the Pied Shags in Australia, ours are almost exclusively marine here in NZ, is that enough for them to be a subspecies

Banded Rail: Endemic subspecies. How different are they to other Banded Rail

Marsh Crake: Endemic subspecies.

Black-backed Gull: Endemic subspecies

Antarctic tern: endemic subspecies?

Shinning cuckoo: Endemic subspecies

Kingfisher andAustralasian Shoveler: Both of these birds have been listed as a subspecies in some publications but others list its just a native species...

Any I have missed and any seabird experts could add some Petrels and Shearwaters etc to the list/discussion.

Anyway... It would be cool for everyone to discuss and share their thoughts and yeah...

I look at our subspecies with fascination and wonder. As these birds are unique to the world, there is no other like it. Our most distinct subspecies are basically the next on the rank in becoming as unique and distinct as our key endemics and I feel that with proper studies etc... We can focus on preserving the most at risk birds financially.. Those that are genetically distinct, because.... What is lost will never return and the substitute (reintroducing the fairy tern from Australia) will truly never be the same for the next 1000 plus years... Like replacing the family pet... Never the same...
Then the next step I fell is some actual social media promotion and education is needed to promote and those subspecies as a unique and as important as our key endemics, nationalisation you could say of our subspecies as a distinct species in their own right, of which then having that importance to protect and to preserve these birds... Like the Grey duck... once lost it will never return.
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Re: Discussion and plight of NZs subspecies

Postby fras444 » Thu May 21, 2020 8:42 pm

http://www.fairytern.org.nz/html/docume ... ng2008.pdf

Brilliant write up about the Australian/New Caledonia/New Zealand Fairy Tern which could be related to most of our endemic subspecies
Finn Davey
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Joined: Thu Feb 20, 2020 9:38 am

Re: Discussion and plight of NZs subspecies

Postby Finn Davey » Thu May 21, 2020 10:36 pm

Very interesting topic that I'll sure to be involved in.
Just want to point out a few small things first.

Black-backed Gull subspecies in NZ are not endemic, Tasmania has the same subspecies as us.
I'm a bit confused with the fantail one? Are you suggesting that NZ Fantail is a subspecies of the Grey Fantail in Australia? Because they are certainly separate species with NZ fantail having it's own few subspecies within various NZ islands.

Looking forward to discussions. :)
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Re: Discussion and plight of NZs subspecies

Postby Jim_j » Mon May 25, 2020 12:29 pm


Just some general comments

I can't comment on current accepted scientific status re species/sub-species - but would note that this tends to be an ever changing situation as we learn more.
I don't think anybody would say our current knowledge is final and we know all there is to know - therefore making a decision that a species/sub-species doesn't warrant saving because it is common elsewhere may be fraught with risk..?

Even if a species is rare in NZ but common elsewhere - so what - if it is part of our avi-fauna why wouldn't we want to save it here?
However I accept that there will never be enough money - and "iconic" species will tend to get the most resources.

I guess the good news is that we know that habitat restoration and mammal pest control is the key for most species - not just birds - so if we concentrate on that it will generally benefit all.
In this regard previous threads have expressed concern about controlling native birds where they may impact other native birds - I think in all cases this is due to habitat degradation and/or mammal pests - if this is fixed the situation will fix itself.
If we are going to spend money to save a species and are happy to kill small furry animals then it makes no conservation, economic or moral sense not to "save" it from all threats

Finally I'll throw in something else - so called introduced birds (and mammals for that matter).
These are not "introduced" - they were born here and a long-line of their ancestors were born here.
How many hundreds/thousands? of years have to pass before they are called native.
I suspect in 100,000 years the European blackbird will no longer be a European Blackbird - but a distinct NZ species.
I note many people are against using similar species for ecological restoration (say for example moving say NI Kokako to the South Is) as it is outside their "historical range" - but determining an historic point in time as a reference to future actions seems bizarre given what we know about the history of the planet.
Again in a 100,000 years they will be SI Kokako.....

In a similar way the NZ Grey/Mallard is surely now our own bird?
I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that a number of species in the world are thought to have derived from hybridisation with similar species.

Finn Davey
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Re: Discussion and plight of NZs subspecies

Postby Finn Davey » Mon May 25, 2020 10:41 pm

Going off of the Kokako point...
North Island Kokako have been observed with orange wattles and South Island Kokako have been observed with blue wattles. At least from what I've been told. To me this suggests that the blue wattle allele is just way more common in NI Birds while the orange wattle allele is more common in the SI. You could theoretically breed some NI Kokako to all have orange wattles, introduce them to the south island and wait. They'll eventually diverge from the NI birds genetically to first become subspecies then eventually species.
Finn Davey
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Joined: Thu Feb 20, 2020 9:38 am

Re: Discussion and plight of NZs subspecies

Postby Finn Davey » Mon May 25, 2020 10:49 pm

With introduced species such as Blackbird, House Sparrow, etc.
They've only been in NZ for a few hundred years, barely even a blip in the eyes of evolution and the grand scene of the world.
So there hasn't been enough time for them to properly diverge from their true European ancestors.

Sure, there may already be some behavioral adaptations which is already a first step, but there's not enough difference in their biology to say they're separate from the ancestral subspecies. In a few more hundred years, I can definitely see them become distinct, endemic subspecies and eventually species.
I like to look at the Dingo for an example.
They evolved from the domestic dog. Depending what you're reading, their either a subspecies of the domestic dog or a separate species.
Either way, they are now a distinct endemic organism of Australia that evolved from an introduced species and has fully naturalized and co evolved with other species.

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