Proposal (#369) to South American Classification Committee


Split Automolus lammi from A. leucophthalmus


Effect on South American CL: this proposal would split Automolus leucophthalmus into two species.

Background: Our current SACC Note is as follows:

"Zimmer (2008) presented data on vocalizations that suggest that the subspecies lammi should be ranked as a separate species from Automolus leucophthalmus. Proposal badly needed."

To my knowledge, lammi has never been considered a full species, not surprising given that, as noted by Zimmer (2008), it is barely diagnosable by plumage. It is the northernmost subspecies of the three within broadly defined A. leucophthalmus, with a known distribution entirely in Pernambuco, Alagoas, and Sergipe. The other two subspecies of A. leucophthalmus occupy the rest of the species' distribution in the Atlantic Forest region (south to Misiones).

New information: Zimmer (2008) concluded that lammi warranted recognition as a separate species from A. leucophthalmus based on vocal characters and playback trials. He analyzed recordings of about 100 individuals from across the range of A. leucophthalmus, including samples of the nominate subspecies from Bahia, reasonably close to the southern limit of lammi. He also examined 38 specimens from throughout the range of leucophthalmus.
In vocalizations, lammi differs substantially from the other two taxa in most characters, including loudsong (see Zimmer paper for sonograms, analyses, and details). In contrast, differences within the rest of the range of nominate leucophthalmus + A. l sulphurascens were negligible.

Zimmer earlier (2002) noted that that A. paraensis (formerly A. infuscatus paraensis) was more similar vocally to lammi than to any subspecies of A. infuscatus. Zimmer (2008) reiterated this with larger sample sizes, noting that lammi and paraensis share some vocal characters.

Finally, Zimmer (2008) conducted many playback trials among the taxa and found that responses, or lack of them, were consistent with species rank for lammi, which shows no response to playback of voices of nominate leucophthalmus or sulphurascens (and vice versa).

Recommendation: I recommend a YES on this proposal. In my opinion, there is no evidence that would support treating lammi as a subspecies of A. leucophthalmus, and species rank is better justified in terms of actual data than it is for several taxa currently ranked as species in the Furnariidae (e.g., Cinclodes aricomae). Put simply, individuals of lammi and leucophthalmus do not recognize each other as conspecific, as far as we can tell, so why should a human-devised classification? [If lammi were to be considered a subspecies of another species, A. paraensis might be a more likely candidate.]

English name: Zimmer recommended "Pernambuco Foliage-gleaner" for A. lammi; in the absence of distinguishing plumage features, this seems fine to me and appropriate in recognizing that the species is endemic to the Pernambuco center of endemism (not the state of Pernambuco per se).

Lit Cit:

ZIMMER, K. J. 2002. Species limits in Olive-backed Foliage-gleaners. Wilson Bull. 114: 20-37.

ZIMMER, K. J. 2008. The White-eyed Foliage-gleaner (Furnariidae: Automolus) is two species. Wilson J. Ornithology 120: 10-25.


Van Remsen, September 2008


Comments from Cadena: "YES. The data are solid, and in comparison to how different species are delimited in these foliage-gleaners, lammi is sufficiently differentiated to be recognized as a separate species from leucophthalmus."

Comments from Nores: "YES. Aunque la coloración, medidas y distribución de las tres formas sugiere que se tratan más de subespecies que de especies, las vocalizaciones y respuestas al "playback" indican que lammi es una especie distinta. El hallazgo de numerosos casos de especies crípticas pero con diferentes vocalizaciones (como señalado por Zimmer) implica que puede haber muchas otras especies en estas condiciones, especialmente en los trópicos, lo que implica un nuevo criterio a tener en cuenta antes de hacer propuestas."

Comments from Zimmer: "YES. As author of the paper on which this proposal is based, I obviously vote YES, for reasons summarized in the paper."

Comments from Robbins: "YES, as we have come to expect, Kevin has done an excellent job of documenting why lammi deserves species rank."

Comments from Stiles: "YES; I have nothing to add to the reasons given by Zimmer and Van, which seem quite convincing."

Comments from Pacheco: "YES.  Minha experiência com o táxon também faz concordar que lammi parece ser (sobretudo, vocalmente) mais próximo de paraensis do que leucophthalmus, o que justifica o split proposto. É oportuno lembrar que lammi ocorre limitadamente fora do “Centro Pernambuco” no Estado de Sergipe. Este “Centro de endemismo” está limitado ao sul pelo Rio São Francisco.”