January 22, 2011

Taxonomy Update #1

"Northern" Little Owl

All photos © A. Bräunlich

From the Oriental Bird Club bulletin BirdingASIA 14, Dec 2010, pp 59–67: Inskipp et al. Species-level and other changes suggested for Asian birds, 2009.

adult "Northern" Little Owl, June 2004, Ikh Nart NR

Athene (noctua) plumipes
Wink et al. (2009) studied the molecular phylogeny of various owls. They found that within Little Owl Athene noctua several distinct lineages were visible (similar to the situation in the American Glaucidium complex), indicating a high degree of geographic differentiation. Of relevance to the OBC region, they found that A. n. plumipes from Mongolia and China shows a distinct genetic lineage, and suggested this deserves specific status (“Northern Little Owl”).

young "Northern" Little Owls,
June 2004, Ikh Nart NR

view from the owl nest site onto the Ikh Nartiin Chuluu
(Ikh Nart ) Nature Reserve research camp. June 2004

original source:
Wink M., El-Sayed A.-A., Sauer-Gürth H. & Gonzalez J. 2009. Molecular phylogeny of owls (Strigiformes) inferred from DNA sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b and the nuclear RAG-1 gene. Ardea 97(4): 581–591.

adult "Northern" Little Owls,
June 2004, Ikh Nart NR

In the original publication Wink et al. wrote “Also A. n. plumipes from Mongolia and China shows a distinct genetic lineage (Fig. 1), probably indicating species status; we suggest recognising this taxon as A. plumipes". It is a bit unusual to suggest specific status for a “probable” case. Furthermore the authors didn't sample (and didn't even mention) the subspecies A. n. orientalis (according to the Handbook of the Birds of the World occurring in western China and adjacent Siberia) which could come into contact with plumipes.

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