ON HAWAIIAN AND PACIFIC BIRDS, BIRDWATCHING AND
A New Approach - Taxonomic re-arrangement of the World's Albatrosses
Since 1983, when Amsterdam Albatross was described, the taxonomic arrangement of the World's Albatrosses has remain unchanged, with recent treatments recognising 14 species in two different genera, the two Sooty Albatrosses phoebetria and all remaining species diomedia. However recent work has shown that there is historical uncertainty as to the relationships within the albatross family Diomedeidae, with more than twelve new generic arrangements being proposed in the last century. The latest research has recommended that albatross taxonomy be reassessed at genus and species level. A multinational team headed by Gary Nunn in 1996 provided evidence that the two genus arrangement used traditionally does not reflect the evolutionary relationships of the albatrosses (Auk 113: 784-801).
By using cytochrome-b gene sequencing Nunn established that early in albatross evolution two separate lineages occurred, which later divided to form four distinct groups: the southern mollymawks, the sooty albatrosses, the North Pacific albatrosses and the "great" albatrosses. The resurrection of two genera Thalassarche (for the southern mollymawks) and phoebastria (for North Pacific species) was suggested so that the monophyl of these groups could be recognised properly.
In September 1995 the First International Conference on the Biology and Conservation of Albatrosses was held in Hobart, Australia and Nunn and Robertson presented their findings, as well as going beyond, and suggesting a revised species-level taxonomy of the albatrosses within the new four genus arrangement. After much discussion the proposals were accepted, although not fully implemented. The revision suggests the recognition of all current sub-species as full species, the foundation of which is that there are genetic differences between taxa which parallel differences in morphology, although the former has yet to be published. King (1998) says that "from a biological viewpoint, it is easy to imagine that gene flow between "subspecies" is extremely low, given that breeding albatrosses have extremely high fidelity to their natal areas which are invariably isolated oceanic archipelagos. Although this recent work makes suggestions for further splits resulting in species status for each of the 24 known taxa, it should be noted here that calculations of distance matrices by Michael Wink and John Penhallurick using Nunn's cytochrome b sequence data indicate that none of the proposed splits are supported (Silcock 2002). Finally, while the authors (Nunn et al.) acknowledge that further research is required to validate the proposed taxonomy, clearly the new arrangement has major conservation implications given the threatened status and restricted breeding distributions of many albatross taxa.
CURRENT ENGLISH NAME
CURRENT SCIENTIFIC NAME
PROPOSED ENGLISH NAME
PROPOSED SCIENTIFIC NAME
|Wandering Albatross||Diomedia exulans exulans||Wandering Albatross||Diomedia exulans|
|Diomedia exulans dabbenena||Tristan Albatross||Diomedia dabbenena|
|Diomedia exulans antipodensis||Antipodean Albatross||Diomedia antipodensis|
|Diomedia exulans gibsoni||Gibson's Albatross||Diomedia gibsoni|
|Royal Albatross||Diomedia epomophora sanfordi||Northern Royal Albatross||Diomedia sanfordi|
|Diomedia epomophora epomophora||Southern Royal Albatross||Diomedia epomophora|
|Amsterdam Albatross||Diomedia amsterdamensis||Amsterdam Albatross||Diomedia amsterdamensis|
|Short-tailed Albatross||Diomedia albatrus||Short-tailed Albatross||Phoebastria albatrus|
|Waved Albatross||Diomedia irrorata||Waved Albatross||Phoebastria irrorata|
|Laysan Albatross||Diomedia immutabilis||Laysan Albatross||Phoebastria immutabilis|
|Black-footed Albatross||Diomedia nigripes||Black-footed Albatross||Phoebastria nigripes|
|Black-browed Albatross||Diomedia melanophrys melanophrys||Black-browed Albatross||Thalassarche melanophrys|
|Diomedia melanophrys impavida||Campbell Albatross||Thalassarche impavida|
|Buller's Albatross||Diomedia bulleri bulleri||Buller's Albatross||Thalassarche bulleri|
|Diomedia bulleri platei||Pacific Albatross||Thalassarche platei|
|Shy Albatross||Diomedia cauta cauta||Shy Albatross||Thalassarche cauta|
|White-capped Albatross*||Thalassarche steadi|
|Diomedia cauta salvini||Salvin's Albatross||Thalassarche salvini|
|Diomedia cauta eremita||Chatham Albatross||Thalassarche eremita|
|Yellow-nosed Albatross||Diomedia chlororhynchos chlororhynchos||Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross||Thalassarche chlororhynchos|
|Diomedia chlororhynchos bassi||Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross||Thalassarche bassi|
|Grey-headed Albatross||Diomedia chrysostoma||Grey-headed Albatross||Thalassarche chrysostoma|
|Sooty Albatross||Phoebetria fusca||Sooty Albatross||Phoebetria fusca|
|Light-mantled Sooty Albatross||Phoebetria palpebrata||Light-mantled Sooty Albatross||Phoebetria palpebrata|
Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta) off California, 1999. Photograph © by Luke Cole
Phylogenetic analyses of mitochondrial DNA sequences (Nunn et al. 1996. Auk 113: 784–801; Nunn & Stanley 1998. Mol. Biol. Evol. 15: 1360–1371) indicate that the albatrosses comprise four major monophyletic groups, which are best recognized as genera: the North Pacific albatrosses (Phoebastria, comprising P. immutabilis, P. nigripes, P. irrorata and P. albatrus), the great albatrosses (Diomedea, comprising D. epomophora, D. exulans and D. amsterdamensis), the mollymawks (Thalassarche, comprising T. chlororhynchos, T. bulleri, T. cauta, T. chrysostoma and T. melanophris), and the sooty albatrosses (Phoebetria, comprising P. fusca and P. palpebrata). The same studies indicate that the sooty albatrosses are the sister-group of the molly-mawks rather than the sister-group to all remaining albatrosses and that the genus Diomedea, as traditionally defined, is not monophyletic. The recognition of the genera Phoebastria and Thalassarche is recommended because this underscores the existence of four major groups of albatrosses and eliminates paraphyly of the traditional genus Diomedea.
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