Proposal (251) to South American Classification Committee
Split Conopias parvus from C. albovittatus
Effect on South American CL: This proposal would elevate a taxon to species rank that we currently treat as a subspecies on our baseline list.
Background: Pitangus parvus was described by Pelzeln in 1868 from a specimen collected at Marabitanas, Rio Negro, Brazil. Pitangus albovittatus had previously been described from the Isthmus of Panama by Lawrence (1862). Ridgway (1906) erected a new genus Coryphotriccus, to which parvus and albovittatus were transferred, with albovittatus designated as the type of the genus. Hellmayr (1927) maintained Coryphotriccus Ridgway, while recognizing that it was "most nearly allied to Conopias, but differs by its relatively much larger bill which is both wider and longer." The type of the genus Conopias was trivirgata, described in 1831 by Wied. Hellmayr treated parvus and albovittatus as conspecific, mistakenly granting priority to parvus, an error that was perpetuated by several subsequent authors. Coryphotriccus was merged into Conopias without comment by Traylor (1977), and by Lanyon (1984), who found the syringes of parvus and trivirgata to be similar. Meyer de Schauensee (1970) and Traylor (1979) treated parvus and albovittatus as subspecies under the name of Conopias parvus. Pinto (1944), Phelps & Phelps (1950) and Sibley & Monroe continued to treat the two forms as separate species. The latter authors cited vocal differences between parvus and albovittata (based on a personal communication with R. Ridgely) as the reason for maintaining the two as species. Meanwhile, the 6th Edition of the A.O.U. Check-list (1983), following Wetmore (1972) maintained the genus Coryphotriccus and kept albovittatus and parvus as a single species (while noting that "the two groups are often regarded as distinct species"), while restoring the priority of albovittatus. Ridgely & Tudor (1994), citing "marked plumage and vocal differences" and "widely disjunct" ranges, treated the two as separate species, White-ringed Flycatcher (Conopias albovittata) and Yellow-throated Flycatcher (Conopias parvus). This treatment has been followed by most authors of field guides (e.g. Ridgely & Greenfield 2001, Hilty 2003) and other popular works (e.g. Fitzpatrick et al 2004 in Volume 9 HBW), but the A.O.U., in its 7th Edition of the North American Check-list (1998) continued to treat the two forms as conspecific, while adapting Conopias as the genus. This is the treatment followed in our base list.
Analysis: Few taxa have been received such erratic treatment, in terms of recognized species-limits, nomenclatural priority and generic allocation as these two. C. albovittatus occurs from E. Honduras through Panama to W. Colombia and NW. Ecuador, and is found only west of the Andes (Fitzpatrick et al 2004). C. parvus occurs from extreme E. Colombia east through S. & E. Venezuela, the Guianas, Amazonian Brazil, and very locally in NE. Ecuador and extreme NE. Peru (Fitzpatrick et al 2004). Its range in Amazonian Brazil is now known to be much more extensive than most published descriptions, with many documented records from widespread localities south of the R. Solimões/Amazon. The two taxa are ecological counterparts, being canopy species that travel with mixed-species flocks, and that are conspicuous by their loud, frequently repeated calls. Morphologically, the two differ primarily in the color of the throat, which is white in albovittatus and yellow in parvus.
Vocal differences are pronounced. Although there has never been a published vocal analysis, there are a number of published qualitative descriptions of the voices, as well as commercially available recordings (e.g. Jahn et al 2002 for albovittatus, Marantz & Zimmer 2006 for parvus). The song of albovittatus is a hard rattle, often preceded by a differentiated first note with a squealing quality. The song of parvus is shorter, more musical, with a tremoring or reverberating quality, which sounds, to my ears like "queveret queveret". Fitzpatrick et al. (2004) described the voice of albovittatus in this way: "Call very distinctive, commences with a long note, followed by rapid, rattling or whirring repetitive trill, "tre-r-r-r-r, tre-r-r-r.", "kree-ee-ee-eer", or short, slightly nasal and descending "wheeer" whistle followed by rattling "qua-tre-e-e-e-e", "wheereeeeee-e-e-e", or "wheeeurrrr-rreek" that rises in pitch and may slow near end; also gives prolonged, relatively higher pitched, petulant trill that slows and ends with several discrete notes. Conversely, they describe the voice of parvus thusly: "Call a distinctive, quick, rhythmic, petulant sounding, and nearly trilled or ringing "quee-le-le", "cue-le-le", or "weedle-de, weedle-de-wee", rather loud and often repeated numerous times. Ridgely & Greenfield (2001) described the voice of albovittatus as: "a dry, fast, whirring or rattling trill "tree-r-r-r, tree-r-r-r" that commences with a longer note. They described the voice of parvus as "a loud, ringing, rhythmic "kluyuyu kluyuyu kluyuyu", sometimes continued for long periods. Vocal descriptions by other authors are variations on these common themes. Having extensive personal experience with both taxa, I have no doubts that a quantitative vocal analysis would reveal significant species-level differences.
Fitzpatrick et al. (2004) also cited molecular-sequence data indicating "substantial divergence between them [albovittatus and parvus], but also that they are closely related and represent a sister-group to a clade consisting of C. cinchoneti and C. trivirgata." Because of the lack of direct citation inherent in the HBW series, it is difficult to track this statement to its source, but I believe the source to be an unpublished PhD dissertation by Mobley (2002).
Summary & Recommendation: The two forms, albovittatus and parvus, were described as different species. None of the subsequent treatments lumping them provided any justification for doing so. The two taxa are geographically isolated from one another, and exhibit consistent plumage and vocal differences. The vocal distinctions are extreme, and although no formal analysis has been published, both detailed qualitative descriptions and published tape recordings leave no doubt as to the degree of the differences. On top of this, an unpublished molecular study (cited in HBW) apparently revealed species-level degree of divergence between the two forms. I would say that the preponderance of evidence strongly favors treatment as two species, and that even given the lack of any published analysis, the burden of proof lies on those that would alter the original taxonomy.
Accordingly, I recommend a "YES" vote for splitting C. parvus from C. albovittatus. This course has been followed in most of the field guide literature, which has been consistent in using the English names of "Yellow-throated Flycatcher" and "White-ringed Flycatcher" respectively for the two forms. Both names are appropriately descriptive, and are well established, so I would favor retaining them.
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FITZPATRICK, J. W. 2004. Family Tyrannidae (tyrant-flycatchers). Pp. 170-462 in "Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 9. Cotingas to pipits and wagtails." (J. del Hoyo et al., eds.). Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
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RIDGELY, R. S., AND G. TUDOR. 1994. The birds of South America, vol. 2. Univ. Texas Press, Austin.
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SIBLEY, C. G., AND B. L. MONROE, JR. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.
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Kevin J. Zimmer, December 2006
Comments from Jaramillo: "YES - It seems like the evidence available supports the division of these two species, although some data such as voice have not been published, and neither has the genetic work. Given that adequate reasons for the original lump have not been detailed, the available information tips the scale towards splitting these two. Note that both taxa are represented with recordings on Xeno-canto, and what appear to be homologous calls are different, although not drastically."
Comments from Robbins: "YES. Long overdue to "officially" recognize Conopias parvus as a species!"
Comments from Remsen: "NO. As noted by Kevin and Alvaro, the vocal differences may be clear-cut, but they have never been published and analyzed in a comparative setting. I think that as a committee of scientists, we should maintain the stance that until the data are actually presented and formally analyzed, status quo stays unchanged, no matter how painful. Listening to a couple of recordings from a couple of spots within the reasonably large and perhaps fragmented ranges of these two suggests that two species are involved but can only be used to spur more analyses, not used as status-changing evidence. As for the molecular data, not only is it unpublished (therefore essentially hearsay) but also there is no such thing as "species level" distances between two sister taxa. I look forward to changing my vote on this one when data are published."
Comments from Stiles: "YES. Given that the original lumpings were essentially unsupported, the color difference is clear-cut, vocal differences appear to be also in spite of a lack of quantitative analysis, the existence of numerous species pairs separated by the Andes, and the fact that a number of modern treatments do split them, I regard the evidence in favor of the split to be much stronger than the contrary."
Comments from Nores: "YES. A pesar de que comparto el criterio argumentado por Remsen, pienso que en este caso hay muchas evidencias de que se trata de dos especies distintas, aunque no esté todo publicado: color, canto, datos moleculares y distribución geográfica. Además, todas las guías modernas de Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia y Perú, además del HBW y Birds of SA de Ridgely, los consideran especies diferentes."
Comments from Cadena: "NO, for reasons outlined by Van: none of the relevant data have been analyzed in detail in a publication."
Comments from Pacheco: "YES. Nenhuma análise está disponível para corroborar o tratamento arbitrário de Conopias parvus e C. albovittatus como formas de uma única espécie implementado por Hellmayr (1927). As informações acerca de um distinto repertório vocal são para mim suficientes para a adoção -- até prova em contrário -- do tratamento de boas espécies para ambas."