Updates: Grenada Dove, GBBC, barcodes

2007 February 25
by David J. Ringer

DUNCANVILLE, TEXAS — Here are a few updates on recent stories:

Grenada Dove (Grenada Dove’s existence threatened by sale of park)

BirdLife International says that despite mounting pressure, Grenada’s government is still considering the sale of a national park to a resort company. The government, apparently, wants to have its cake and eat it too. Meanwhile, an excellent post by Nic Winkler in Grenada reminds us that the issues at stake are very complex and their consequences far-reaching. Good on you, Nic.

Texas GBBC results (A few more cowbirds for the GBBC)

I said earlier that Texas probably recorded more species than any other state during this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count. But between continuing checklist submissions in and ongoing data review, Texas and California are neck and neck. The final tally could swing either way.

Reviewers sorting through the Texas results have disqualified several wacky reports. Perhaps the most bizarre was the report of a Passenger Pigeon!

I intend no unkindness to new or inexperienced birders, but this sort of absurdity is one reason that “citizen science” is looked down on by some. Reports of long-extinct or far out-of-range species are relatively easy to detect and eliminate, but the submission of such reports suggests that countless subtler errors are slipping through. However, organizers of events like the GBBC apparently believe that the risk is acceptable, that the benefits outweigh the confusion, and that millions of records aggregated over the years can in fact tell us something about our birds — even if someone did try to report a Passenger Pigeon from Conroe, Texas.

DNA barcodes (1,000 new bird species?)

Will a recently published paper usher in a whole new round of splits and lumps? Well … it appears that the original intent of the paper has been distorted by media coverage and hasty conclusions, as Bob Powell pointed out on BirdChat. In response to a message on Texbirds last night, I posted the following:

Unfortunately, some of the news stories and headlines that this research has inspired are misleading. This headline (“Genetics Reveal 15 New N.American Bird Species”) is particularly bad.

From the original paper‘s abstract: “DNA barcoding seeks to assemble a standardized reference library for DNA-based identification of eukaryotic species. The utility and limitations of this approach need to be tested on well-characterized taxonomic assemblages.”

In other words, the researchers were testing the validity of the “barcode” idea by comparing their results against a relatively accepted standard. When their results differed from the standard, they tried to come up with hypotheses to explain the inconsistencies.

One hypothesis was that there could be unrecognized species in North America (surprise!). But that doesn’t mean that it’s the right answer, or the only answer.

Science can’t be stuffed into a headline.

The paper has generated discussion in all the major online birding communities, and some birders have had nothing but harsh words for the barcode project.

Bird blogs around the world

Today, I added several more bird blogs to my blogroll. My blogroll is not intended to be an exhaustive list; rather, it presents the blogs I enjoy reading regularly. As the number of bird blogs grows, I’m left wondering how many more I’ll be able to handle. Though I am a child of the computer age, I am still amazed that I have instant access to prose, poetry, photos, audio, and video of birds and birders from Estonia to Australia and Nunavut to Antarctica!

For a look at some of the recent bird-related posts from around the blogosphere, have a look at I and the Bird #43. This edition is hosted by Tai Haku, who regularly posts spectacular images of Caribbean marine life.

Related posts:

  1. Grenada Dove’s existence threatened by sale of park
  2. Mourning Dove takes a shower
  3. A few more cowbirds for the GBBC
  4. Monk Parakeets and other GBBC goodies

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