Birder's Guide

DEC 2018

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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16 Birder's Guide to Listing & Taxonomy | December 2018 Vintage Birds , Modern Science longer the populations had been isolated, the more their habitats seemed to differ. They were evolving into different species, and most of the data suggested they had already gotten there. Taken together, our integrative taxonomy of Unicolored Jays, published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, said there were at least two and as many as five species, where science currently recognizes only one. Whether we split Unicolored Jays will eventually be decided through a formal proposal to the North American Classification Committee of the American Ornithological Society. Decisions to split up species ideally should be based on intrinsic criteria of the species and not external considerations like the potential threats they face. Nev- ertheless, species splitting, when it occurs, can have a large impact on species pro- tection. For example, the Unicolored Jay is currently considered a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature because it is wide- spread and common in some areas. How- ever, a few of the new candidate species we uncovered have highly restricted ranges in areas of active habitat loss. One candidate species, a long-tailed and purplish population of Unicolored Jays in the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico, has been seen recently in an area of only about 60 x 25 miles (100 x 40 kilometers). It is also increasingly rare to see members of another distinctive Unicolored Jay in the mountains of eastern Mexico, as forest clearing around the city of Xalapa in Vera- cruz has split the cloud forest into small, remnant stands, which Unicolored Jays avoid. The designation of these distinctive populations as species could serve both to highlight how different they are and to help kickstart local and federal protections for them in Mexico. Museum work does not take place only on species in far-flung locations. In the Moore Lab, museum specimens are help- ing us better understand our local popula- tions of Red-crowned and Lilac-crowned parrots in Los Angeles. These species were introduced in the 1970s as part of the pet trade, and they're now threatened in their native ranges in Mexico. There are prob- ably more Red-crowned Parrots in Los An- geles than in their native range. Can Los Angeles parrots potentially serve as a kind of "rescue population" if they go extinct in the native habitat? Or have the two spe- cies interbred so much that they now con- stitute a hybrid swarm, neither fully one species nor the other? Because we have museum specimens, and therefore DNA, of both species collected in Mexico prior to their establishment in Los Angeles, we can begin to answer these questions with what we call the Free-flying Los Angeles Parrot Project, or FLAPP. In a world that is changing rapidly due to human-caused habitat loss and climate change, the most important value of museum collections might be in establishing a baseline, or a starting point, for making comparisons through time. Without a baseline, it's hard to know what has changed and why. Last year, we embarked on a multi-year project called the Mexican Bird Resurvey Project, which will allow us to compare n Moore Lab researchers resurvey the birds in the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir, Baja California, Mexico. Photo © Bryan Rasmussen

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