NZ Birds Online taxonomy and nomenclature

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.
Colin Miskelly
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NZ Birds Online taxonomy and nomenclature

Postby Colin Miskelly » Wed Jan 08, 2020 9:32 pm

Kia ora

I have started a new thread for this topic (replying to Steve Wood's comments under “Gull-billed Terns Nesting”). Steve’s comments were:

“As far as I'm aware David has it correct, however NZBO does mention the two ssp but not in any up- to- date detail:
"The Australian form macrotarsa visits New Zealand periodically. The Asian form affinis is regularly seen in Australia and could potentially occur here too."

With respect, NZBO, which is a fantastic resource and great effort by all involved, it is unfortunately particularly slow with any major updates in changing taxonomy, which I see as essential and will require regular updates which aren’t forthcoming.

South Georgian Diving Petrel page is another example that is very much in need of an update???

http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/fa ... fhKI4ERC58

Stewart Island Shag…. doesn’t exist any more!........still yet to be updated, especially for all the new overseas birders coming with their UP-TO-DATE checklists.

This in turn could also have a knock-on effect with inaccurate e-bird reports. It seems we can't all be on the same page which is a real shame.”


This topic causes me much grief, and I would appreciate your collective feedback on how to proceed – either through this thread or to my work email colin.miskelly[at]tepapa.govt.nz

NZ Birds Online was launched in mid-2013, precisely 3 years after the launch of the 4th edition of the Checklist of the Birds of New Zealand published by Te Papa Press and the Ornithological Society of New Zealand. The Checklist was used as the framework for the website, both in terms of what qualified for a page (these are at species level, not subspecies level - i.e. the Checklist taxonomy was followed) and in terms of the scientific names used (Checklist nomenclature). I confess to one exception among common name nomenclature on NZBO, where I chose to use ‘mollymawk’ for Thalassarche albatrosses (I hope that future versions of the Checklist will revert to this informative and unambiguous name).

My intention was to amend the website whenever the OSNZ Checklist Committee published agreed decisions on name changes and taxon splits. Records Appraisal Committee decisions have been followed for vagrant species, with new pages being added (occasionally these new pages have been posted in advance for bleedingly obvious new species records, but always with a caveat ‘pending Records Appraisal Committee acceptance’, with the caveat removed when the record was accepted). I have also tried to add pages for each new fossil species described, but am a bit behind with this (and welcome submissions of new species text, particularly by the authors of any papers describing new fossil species – I have had little time available to write new web content over the last year or so, but am always happy to receive contributions).

I have been resistant to changing/updating scientific names for existing species pages for the 6.5 years since the website was launched, mainly because I did not want the website (which is a Te Papa/OSNZ/DOC product) to be considered as the source of taxonomic wisdom – it should follow OSNZ Checklist Committee decisions, not pre-empt or second guess them.

Taxonomic changes do not automatically occur on the basis of an author managing to get their hypothesis through a peer review process. Acceptance of an hypothesis requires a decision by an appropriate body – ideally a Checklist Committee, though decisions often occur in a de facto way by book authors and (increasingly) by website administrators.

Many of you will be aware of discrepancies between e.g. eBird and BirdLife species names, let alone the 2010 Checklist of the Birds of New Zealand. Steve asked about Whenua Hou diving petrel (which is not recognised by eBird) and states that Stewart Island shag doesn’t exist anymore (it does on eBird). These are only two examples of different authorities making different taxonomic decisions on the same data, and ironically the current ‘out-dated’ NZBO taxonomy in these cases is aligned with eBird and would not create inaccurate reports.

The Checklist Committee (which I am a member of) has had a draft manuscript on agreed scientific name changes kicking around for a couple of years. For a variety of reasons, I do not hold any hope of it being finalised and published this year. This document describes why taxonomic and/or nomenclatural changes are or are not recommended. NZ Birds Online is intended as an accessible source of bird information, including for people with minimal bird or scientific knowledge. It is not the right place to explain taxonomic decisions or indecisions at the level that a Checklist Committee should.

Do you (as New Zealand Birds Online users) want me to cherry-pick Checklist Committee interim decisions and present them with minimal explanation, or do we collectively wait for the Checklist Committee to get their shit together and publish something?

P.S. I have added Australian tern as an alternative common name for gull-billed tern on NZBO
Jan
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Re: NZ Birds Online taxonomy and nomenclature

Postby Jan » Thu Jan 09, 2020 10:39 am

I come across people all the time who use the word Molly'hawk' for albatross and have no idea it is wrong. I much prefer 'Salvin's albatross' as a name for eg. as it says what the bird is. What is the meaning of Mollymawk, does anyone know? Recently I had a yachting mate referring to Sooty shearwaters as Sooty Albatross and small shearwaters as Dotterels, so the simpler the info. provided, the better, I reckon.
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Neil Fitzgerald
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Re: NZ Birds Online taxonomy and nomenclature

Postby Neil Fitzgerald » Thu Jan 09, 2020 10:13 pm

FWIW, NZPCN (the plant equivalent of NZBO) is quite quick to adopt name changes. Therefore there have also been times when NZPCN has just as quickly reverted to earlier names, because as Colin notes, peer review and publication is not the end of the story. Pages on NZPCN sometimes have notes justifying the use of names that may not be consistent with recent published literature. I guess it's transparent cherry picking. I don't know if there is a more active plant checklist committee, but this could end up falling to a committee of one, which is probably not ideal. I only point this out as another instance of the exact same issue.
I don't know what the answer is (is lighting a fire under the checklist committee an option?), but I'm old enough now to be able to sympathize with mum's frustration at the 'new' names I would use for the same old plants. Now I'm the one struggling to keep up with new names, half of which are the names they had before the old names!
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David Riddell
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Re: NZ Birds Online taxonomy and nomenclature

Postby David Riddell » Fri Jan 10, 2020 8:52 am

Jan wrote:I come across people all the time who use the word Molly'hawk' for albatross and have no idea it is wrong. I much prefer 'Salvin's albatross' as a name for eg. as it says what the bird is. What is the meaning of Mollymawk, does anyone know? Recently I had a yachting mate referring to Sooty shearwaters as Sooty Albatross and small shearwaters as Dotterels, so the simpler the info. provided, the better, I reckon.


I gather "mollymawk" comes from the Dutch, mallemok, meaning foolish gull. Personally I like the word, because as Colin says the mollymawks are a well-defined natural grouping distinct from the "great" albatrosses, and given New Zealand has the greatest diversity of them we arguably have a need for finer distinctions than are required in places where albatross diversity is much lower. The business with "mollyhawk" is complicated, with some also using it as a name for juvenile black-backed gulls.

I guess ultimately people can use whatever common names they want, and they will continue to evolve over time. By all means work on standardising scientific nomenclature, but common names are always going to be less tidy, reflecting the varying cultural backgrounds of the people using them, and that's a good thing.
Pete McClelland
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Re: NZ Birds Online taxonomy and nomenclature

Postby Pete McClelland » Fri Jan 10, 2020 2:45 pm

I agree with Colin and David - Mollymawks, or Mollyhawks as the southern fishermen call them, are easily separated from the great albatross and I'd hate to see them absorbed into a more generic term, I think both groups would be the poorer for doing so. Just because other countries clump them together doesn't mean we should.
Confusing shearwaters for albatross or dotterels is simply a lack of knowledge and is quite a separate issue.
Jim_j
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Re: NZ Birds Online taxonomy and nomenclature

Postby Jim_j » Sat Jan 11, 2020 1:18 pm

I tend to agree that NZBO should not pre-empt decisions that have not been "formally" accepted - as Colin states:-
"NZ Birds Online is intended as an accessible source of bird information, including for people with minimal bird or scientific knowledge. It is not the right place to explain taxonomic decisions or indecisions at the level that a Checklist Committee should."
.

I'm impressed that it is kept as up to date as it is.

I too would hate to see Molymawk disappear......

Cheers
Jim

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