Proposal (99) to South American Classification Committee
Change English name of Ramphocelus melanogaster
Effect on South American CL: This proposal would change the English name of a species on our list from a "Meyer de Schauensee" name ("Black-bellied Tanager") to an "Isler" name ("Huallaga Tanager").
Background: Meyer de Schauensee (1966, 1970) used the name "Black-bellied Tanager" for Ramphocelus melanogaster, and this was followed by Parker et al. (1982) and presumably other literature, until Isler & Isler (1987) changed this to "Huallaga Tanager " in reference to its small range, the Huallaga River valley of Peru. This was followed by Ridgely & Tudor (1989), who noted:
"As R. melanogaster is no more "Black-bellied' than is R. dimidiatus (and is much less so than many races of R. carbo), we find that formerly used name to be decidedly misleading. As its range is limited to the Huallaga River valley, that name provides a good modifier."
This was followed by Sibley & Monroe (1990) and Clements and Shany (2001), but not Dickinson (2003).
Analysis: I think Bob's description (above) of "Black-bellied" as "decidedly misleading" is somewhat over-the-top. Although R. melanogaster is indeed no more "black-bellied" than R. dimidiatus, the name emphasizes a striking difference between it and parapatric R. carbo; whereas the parapatric form of the latter has a blackish belly the blends into the dull reddish breast, R. dimidiatus has a sharply demarcated pure black belly that is highlighted by the brilliant red breast, sides, and flanks --its "gaster" is indeed very "melano" -- it was given that scientific name for a good reason. Worries about confusion between R. dimidiatus and R. melanogaster are, for field ornithologists, a geographical impossibility.
Recommendation: I tentatively vote "NO" on this proposal because my basic philosophy is "just live with" old, bad names for sake of stability unless highly misleading. On the other hand, I like geographic names, and "the" book for the Thraupidae uses "Huallaga," as does the current field guide for Peru. What will convince me to vote YES is the word from Tom that the new Peru book will use "Huallaga."
CLEMENTS, J. F., AND N. SHANY. 2001. A field guide to the birds of Peru. Ibis Publ. Co., Temecula, California.
ISLER, M., AND P. ISLER. 1987. The tanagers, natural history, distribution, and identification. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
MEYER DE SCHAUENSEE, R. 1966. The species of birds of South America and their distribution. Livingston Publishing Co., Narberth, Pennsylvania.
MEYER DE SCHAUENSEE, R. 1970. A guide to the birds of South America. Livingston Publishing Co., Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.
PARKER, T. A. III, S. A. PARKER, & M. A. PLENGE. 1982. An annotated list of Peruvian birds. Buteo Books.
RIDGELY, R. S., AND G. TUDOR. 1989. The birds of South America, vol. 1. Univ. Texas Press, Austin.
SIBLEY, C. G., AND B. L. MONROE, JR. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.
Van Remsen, February 2004
Comments from Robbins: "YES. This is an improvement as it accurately conveys its restricted distribution."
Comments from Zimmer: "YES. I don't like to tinker with established names too much, but when we can substitute a good geographic name for a marginal plumage-based descriptive name for what is a highly localized species, then I'm all for it. The disruption in continuity would seem to be more than offset by a name that is much more informative, and memorable (as opposed to another descriptive name)."
Comments from Schulenberg: "NO. To begin with, I don't see any need to change the name. There has been no taxonomic revision requiring names for newly recognized (BSC) species level taxa, so ... why change an existing name rather than maintain the stability of an existing name?
“Secondarily, the name "Huallaga Tanager" does not work well for me. Ramphocelus melanogaster is found only in the Rio Huallaga drainage of Peru - that is true. However, it is not found on the lower Huallaga (where Ramphocelus carbo occurs). It is the dominant Ramphocelus in the Rio Mayo valley, a tributary of the Huallaga; and it may be the only Ramphocelus in the uppermost, tropical portions of the Huallaga near Tingo Maria. Along the Huallaga itself, upstream from the mouth of the Mayo but below Tingo Maria, the picture is more clouded. This is a poorly known area, but it appears that at the junction of the Huallaga and the Mayo carbo is the dominant Ramphocelus. And carbo, or carbo x melanogaster hybrids, reportedly have been collected at several sites upstream from there (i.e., in the direction of Tingo).
“So, melanogaster is confined to the Huallaga valley. But it does not occupy the entire Huallaga drainage, and seems to overlap, at least in part, with the more widespread carbo.
“Maybe I'm too close to all this ("thinking about it too much"). But the geographic situation is, to me, unexpectedly complicated, and so I am reluctant to endorse this name change. Of course, as already mentioned, I would have needed a very very good reason/strong argument to change an existing name in the first place.”
Comments from Stiles: "NO, in the name of consistency, although personally I like "Huallaga" (to me it is irrelevant whether there are one or ten more congeners in the Huallaga valley if this is the only one restricted to it). However, "black-bellied" is not wrong, just non-diagnostic, and is a mnemonic for the scientific name."
Comments from Nores: "NO, aunque el vientre negro no es exclusivo de esta especie, no es para mí un "misleading name". Con este criterio habría que cambiar el nombre a muchas otras especies que no tienen un color exclusivo. Por ejemplo: Masked Yellowthroat (Geothlypis aequinoctialis), el cual tiene la máscara menor que Geothlypis semiflava, e igual que Geothlypis trichas."
Comments from Jaramillo: "NO. This was a difficult one. I don't want to change the name to maintain stability, but at the same time since so many works have adopted Huallaga Tanager, maintaining our status quo will be seen as a name change by many users of English Names. In other words, this committee should have been around 20 years ago, before every bird book author started changing names! I don't think Black-bellied is wrong, just not all that creative, and since Tom has problems with Huallaga from a geographic perspective it all adds up to a no vote for me. Stay with Black-bellied Tanager."