The recent debate on taxonomic status of Eastern Black Redstarts and Siberian Stonechats (http://www.surfbirds.com/forum/showthread.php?t=9812), made me think of one of my favourite species/groups, the Pied/Cyprus/Black-eared Wheatear complex.
I wrote and illustrated an article for Dutch Birding on Cyprus Wheatear many years ago ( http://www.dutchbirding.nl/content/j...pdf/1994-5.pdf ), and have kept a close eye on various articles. One relatively recent paper ( http://www.springerlink.com/content/.../fulltext.html - and pdf below) is very interesting in that it (again) highlights the problems with this group of 'species'; genetically, it seems, Pied, Cyrus and Eastern Black-eared are extremely closely related.
'From the molecular viewpoint, we are unable to clearly separate O. cypriaca from O. pleschanka and O. h. melanoleuca. The small genetic distance is in agreement with intra-population divergence in many other passerines (Alström et al. 2007, 2008), and this contradicts rather than supports the species status of O. cypriaca.....we have to conclude that the mitochondrial data do not support species status of O. cypriaca, and even not of O. h. melanoleuca and O. pleschanka, while, surprisingly, the data support different forms within the western O. h. hispanica clade.'
However, with the results of other experiments - song playback, 'dummy' presentation , etc. - they conclude that
'Under a ‘biological’ species definition, the taxonomic status of O. cypriaca seems clearer because the song of O. cypriaca is different compared to the other three forms (Sluys and van den Berg 1982; Bergmann 1983). Despite the mitochondrial evidence against species status, we propose species status for O. cypriaca because of the behaviour towards dummies and playbacks, the strikingly different song (Bergmann 1983), and different morphometrics (Kaboli et al. 2006). O. cypriaca differs from O. pleschanka in 14 characters of external morphology (Förschler et al. 2010). Given this evidence, we suppose that O. cypriaca will maintain its genetic and phenotypic integrity in the future, which should be a significant criterion for assigning species rank (Helbig et al. 2002).'
A number of interesting points arise from this. Firstly, I feel that their data further supports a split of Western Black-eared Wheatear hispanica from the Eastern form melanoleuca. Secondly, I like to think that Cyprus Wheatear is a separate species, but given the extreme genetic similarity to Pied pleschanka and melanoleuca is this a sustainable stance to take?
[now over to Alex et al..]
As a postscript, I add details of recent Turkish records from Guy Kirwan's website: 'Although unsurprising in that they precisely match the known pattern, records of two at Göksu Delta on 1 April (with five Pied Wheatears O. pleschanka) and a single at Anamur (Mediterranean) on 4 April 2010 (E. Yogurtcuoglu) are notable in being the first to be reported for some years (Balmer & Murdoch 2011, Sandgrouse 33: 91). At the first-named locality, up to O. cypriaca and four O. pleschanka remained until at least 16 April 2010 (R. Gul) and were photographed (http://www.trakus.org/kods_bird/uye/...5@d&idx=34287; http://www.trakus.org/kods_bird/uye/...15@d&idx=14863). At least one Pied Wheatear was seen there as early as 27 March. R. Gul also reports that both species were also present in numbers (tens of each) at the Göksu Delta in October 2009.'