Proposal (506) to South American Classification Committee
Recognise Forpus flavicollis
Proposal: This proposal, if it passed, would result in a new species being added to the AOU-SACC list. Such an approach is not recommended. This proposal is made at the request of the committee’s chairman, to allow the AOU-SACC to consider and make their view known on a controversial issue.
Discussion: Forpus flavicollis was described in 2010 as a new species of parrotlet, based on a grained photograph that at one time appeared on the internet of some caged birds taken in Ibagué, Colombia (Bertagnolio & Racheli 2010). The description raises various issues, which have been discussed in two recent papers (Notton 2011, Donegan et al. 2011).
1. Is the name flavicollis available for purposes of nomenclature?
The ICZN secretariat has published various papers and guidance concerning descriptions based on samples or photography of live individuals (Wakeham-Dawson et al. 2002, Polaszek et al. 2005, ICZN online FAQs). According to these publications and various provisions of the Code, descriptions whose holotype is based on a live individual are valid in the sense of making a zoological name ‘available’ for purposes of nomenclature. The description of Forpus flavicollis fell outside the scope of recent precedents and ICZN guidance and publications because no holotype was designated by Bertagnolio & Racheli (2010). Instead, all of the parrotlets in the photograph were designated as syntypes. Controversy over nomenclatural issues has arisen in various discussions among ornithologists, principally because: (i) no sample was taken which could serve as a holotype; and (ii) Article 73 of the Code (which is relevant to holotypes) explicitly states that illustrated individuals are acceptable (in Article 73.1.4) but Article 74 (which deals with syntypes) has no equivalent provision to 73.1.4.
The nomenclatural controversy generated by this description, until recently largely in private e-mails and communications, led to the ICZN secretariat having to intervene issuing fresh guidance. Notton (2011) has clarified how the Code would treat this rather difficult and apparently unprecedented description. He considered the name flavicollis to be ‘available’ for purposes of nomenclature. In particular, he noted that Article 72.5.6 envisages that syntypes may be based upon illustrated individuals. As discussed by Notton (2011), there is no breach of Article 16 of the Code for descriptions not based on specimens, such as here where photographed individuals are used. As the name flavicollis is considered available for purposes of nomenclature, it falls to taxonomy to deal with the description (Notton 2011).
2. Is flavicollis a nomen dubium?
The supposedly diagnostic yellow nuchal plumage referred to in the flavicollis description is clearly illustrated in Bertagnolio & Racheli (2010)’s photograph. Any determination that the name flavicollis is a nomen dubium and should therefore be ignored would be entirely subjective (Donegan et al. 2011) and therefore could be criticised.
3. Does the name flavicollis apply to a new species of parrot?
The feather-dying of captive parrots has been discussed in the ornithological literature (e.g. Sick 1993) and is known to be conducted on Forpus conspicillatus, a common parrotlet in disturbed habitats of western Colombia (Hernandez & Rodriguez 2002, Donegan et al. 2011). The use of colored dyes makes species seem more exotic or attractive and hence more valuable when they are sold in local marketplaces. Birds used for the basis of Bertagnolio & Racheli (2010)’s description are considered likely to have dyed feathers (Donegan et al. 2011, see also Daniel Cadena’s blog: http://evodiversidad.blogspot.com/2011/01/nueva-especie-de-periquito-colombiana.html).
In Donegan et al. (2011), we examined the original description of F. conspicillatus and other relevant publications. F. conspicillatus was described by Lafresnaye based on Bogotá specimens. Its type locality was later restricted to Honda (by Chapman 1917), a town c.100 km from the F. flavicollis type locality (Ibagué) in the mid-Magdalena valley. There are no controversies over the species or subspecies to which the mid-Magdalena valley population of F. conspicillatus pertains – it being the nominate subspecies – and as discussed in Donegan et al. (2011) there is no documented geographical variation in plumage between the type localities of conspicillatus and flavicollis (Honda and Ibagué). Bertagnolio & Racheli (2010) did not discuss feather-dying or cite publications discussing the dying of feathers referred to above, nor did they apparently conduct research in any Colombian bird specimen collections. If they had inspected museum collections, they would have found Forpus and other Colombian parrots with dyed yellow feathers (Donegan et al. 2011). For a description based on captive birds, one must make the a priori assumption that the birds were locally captured. Based on this assumption, to the extent that the name flavicollis is available, it should be treated as a junior synonym of conspicillatus at both species and subspecies level, unless and until someone demonstrates that there is some wild population with this phenotype (Donegan et al. 2011).
Recommendation: We did not include this species on the Colombian checklist. It should not be added to the South American checklist either. A “NO” vote comes recommended.
Bertagnolio, P. & Racheli, L. 2010. A new parrotlet from Colombia, Forpus flavicollis. Avicultural Magazine 116: 128–133.
Chapman, F.M. 1917. The distribution of bird–life in Colombia; a contribution to a biological survey of South America. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 36.
Donegan, T.M., Quevedo, A., McMullan, M. & Salaman, P. 2011. Revision of the status of bird species occurring or reported in Colombia 2011. Conservación Colombiana 15: 4-21. http://www.proaves.org/IMG/pdf/CC15/Conservacion_Colombiana_15_4-21.pdf
Notton, D. 2011. The availability and validity of the name Forpus flavicollis Bertagnolio & Racheli, 2010, for a parrotlet from Colombia. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 131(3): 221–224
Polaszek, A., Grubb, P., Groves, C., Ehardt, C.L. & Butynski, T.M. 2005. What constitutes a proper description: response. Science 309, 2164–2166.
Rodriguez–M., J.V. & Hernández–C., J.I. 2002. Loros de Colombia. Conservation International Tropical Field Guide Series. Conservación Internacional Colombia, Bogotá.
Sick, H. 1993. Birds in Brazil: a natural history. Princeton University Press.
Wakeham–Dawson, A., Morris, S., Tubbs, P., Dalebout, M.L. & Baker, C.S. 2002. Type specimens: dead or alive? Bull. Zool. Nomenclature59(4), 282–286.
Thomas Donegan, October 2011
Comments from Remsen: “NO, for all the good reasons stated in the proposal. However, more broadly, it’s time for the ICZN to deal with this sort of situation more directly so we don’t have to waste time on this sort of absurd “description.” Unless the ICZN revises the Code to increase the scientific rigor of modern taxon descriptions, it risks losing credibility in the eyes of many scientists. Although exceptions may be needed in a few groups (e.g., whales, some deep-sea creatures) or in cases in which taking a single specimen clearly jeopardizes the survival of the species, a specimen deposited in a museum should be required for any modern description if it is to have scientific credibility – this should be built into the Code. Repeatability is at the core of the scientific method, and given that the Code is intended for use by science, the Code as it stands is fundamentally anti-scientific if it does not demand rigor in terms of standards for type specimens. Even if photographs are permitted, the original images and associated RAW files should be required to be archived so that they can also be re-examined. Anyone who has dealt with film or digital images knows that a published version often differs from the original in terms of color tones. Further, for example for “Forpus flavicollis”, modest Photoshop skills could generate a published image of any number of additional “new species” of parrotlets with names just as “available” as F. flavicollis. [No, I am not insinuating that this was the case for this “new species”]. It’s time that the ICZN becomes proactive in changing its views on photographs or any indirect representation of an organism – they should not be available names and should be declared nomina dubia.”
Comments from Stiles: “NO – in the sense that if flavicollis is indeed declared “available” (although I am not convinced here, as the “type series” is no longer available for examination, presumably having been sold to various gullible pet stores and aviculturists), the name is certainly not valid but a synonym of conspicillatus. We have in our collection a little section of “exotica” with two comparably dyed (but orange-collared) conspicillatus and a pretty yellow-breasted Aratinga pertinax, as well as a very striking orange canary (?) sporting a cute green crest of parrot feathers! A few years back, a rash of rose-breasted female Molothrus appeared in the local botanical garden, unfortunately they wouldn’t let me collect one!”
Comments from Pacheco: “NO. Clearly, the validity of the taxon was not immunized from minimally acceptable interpretations. I am strongly in agreement with the Vanęs criticisms about the lack of definition of ICZN.”
Comments from Robbins: “NO. Here we go again (see my comments under proposal 479B), with the ICZN not getting their house in order and wasting people’s time with nonsense. Van and Gary comments reflect my sentiments about what a non-issue this is.”
Comments from Cadena: “NO. These are, quite obviously, individuals of Forpus conspicillatus in which plumage has been altered. I have commented on other aspects of the (poor) description in the blog post mentioned by Donegan above.”
Comments from Stotz: “NO. I agree with everybody else that evidence that this captive bird is something other than a feather-dyed Forpus conspicillatus is lacking. There is no reason to accept this as a valid taxon.”
Comments from Pérez: “NO. It was clearly bold to describe this species based only on an Internet photograph. The complete process shows a complete lack of scientific rigor. Authors should have done their research and find out the common practice of feather-dying of parrots in Colombia and other countries in South America.”
Comments from Zimmer: “NO for all of the reasons mentioned in the proposal and by other committee members in their comments.