Proposal (394) to South American Classification Committee


Treat Automolus rufipectus as a separate species from Automolus rubiginosus



Effect on SACC:  This would elevate a subspecies of Automolus rubiginosus to species rank.


Background: All modern classifications treat Automolus rubiginosus as a single, polytypic species, since at least Cory & Hellmayr (1925), who considered it a subspecies of A. rubiginosus, evidently because of the plumage similarity to distant A. r. guerrerensis.  Here is what our current Note says:


97d. Automolus rubiginosus likely includes several species-level taxa (AOU 1998, Hilty 2003, Remsen 2003). The subspecies nigricauda (with saturatus) was formerly (e.g., Cory & Hellmayr 1925) considered a separate species, but they were treated as conspecific by Peters (1951) and all subsequent authors.  Krabbe (2008) provided evidence that the subspecies rufipectus of the Santa Marta Mountains merits species rank.  Proposal badly needed.”


New information: Krabbe (2008) taped four individuals of A. r. rufipectus and gathered recordings of two others; these were compared to sonograms of all other Automolus and related genera.

       The songs and calls of rufipectus differ from those of 8 subspecies (no recordings available for 5) of A. rubiginosus in multiple ways, and Krabbe summarized reasons why the unsampled subspecies should not differ from those sampled.  In contrast, the song of rufipectus actually resembles that of Hylocryptus erythrocephalus of the Tumbesian region more than that of any other species.  Making that link even more tantalizing is Krabbe’s observations of rufipectus feeding mostly on the ground (albeit small N) and its preference for semihumid forest.


Analysis and Recommendation:  In my opinion, Krabbe has established that there is no real evidence that rufipectus should be treated as a subspecies of rubiginosus; its traditional ranking as such is based on the similarity in ventral plumage color.  That so many populations of rubiginosus, many of which are as isolated as is rufipectus, are similar makes dramatic the difference between rufipectus and the others.  Although comparing among Automolus might be risky, I think that it is safe to say that rufipectus song differs more from that of rubiginosus than does that of A. paraensis from A. infuscatus or A. lammi from A. leucophthalmus, two species-level splits recently endorsed by SACC.  Therefore, I support a YES vote on this one.


English name: Cory & Hellmayr (1925) referred to it as “Rufous-chested Automolus.”  So “Rufous-chested Foliage-gleaner” seems appropriate and accurate.  The only other obvious candidate would be “Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner” (but it seems that we have a surplus of Santa Marta Somethings). Krabbe (2008) noted: "Santa Marta Foliage- gleaner (rather than Rufous-chested Automolus as employed by Cory & Hellmayr 1925) might be an appropriate vernacular name."  If in your vote, you could indicate a preference for either one, or propose a novelty, I’ll use those comments to construct a proposal.


Lit Cit

KRABBE, N.  2008.  Vocal evidence for restitution of species rank to a Santa Marta endemic: Automolus rufipectus Bangs (Furnariidae), with comments on its generic affinities.  Bulletin British Ornithologists' Club 128: 219-227.


Van Remsen, April 2009



Comments from Cadena: “YES. The vocal differences between rufipectus and all other forms included in Automolus rubiginosus are truly remarkable. In addition, I should note that Krabbe's suggestion that rufipectus might be a close relative of Hylocryptus erythrocephalus and not to other populations referred to A. rubiginosus based on its distinctive voice seems to be correct. Based on sequences of mitochondrial genes obtained from the specimen we collected that was mentioned in the Krabbe paper, rufipectus indeed appears to be sister to H. erythrocephalus. Because the relationships of the clade formed by these two to other Automolus rubiginosus is complicated, this will be discussed at length in a forthcoming paper we will produce in collaboration with Robb Brumfield, Santiago Claramunt, and others.”


Comments from Nores: “YES. Las diferencias en canto expresadas por Krabbe no dejan dudas de que se trata de una especie diferente de Autumolus rubiginosus. Es más, como señala el autor su posición genérica puede demandar re-ubicación, que probablemente se evidenciarán cuando se realicen estudios moleculares.”


Comments from Zimmer: “YES. The sample sizes of audio recordings are small, but the distinctions are pretty marked.  A. rubiginosus is clearly more than one species, and there is probably more splitting that needs to be done, but this is a good start.  I would support “Rufous-chested Foliage-gleaner” as an English name.  Given the similarities of this taxon to Hylocryptus, we are probably better off not calling it ‘Rufous-chested Automolus’.”


Comment from T. Donegan and P. Salaman: “We accepted this split and adopted "Santa Marta Foliage-Gleaner" as the English name for this species in the 2009 Colombia checklist (Salaman et al. 2009), as recommended by Krabbe (2008).   This vernacular name is more informative than "Rufous-chested Automolus", given that many foliage-gleaners are rufous-chested; and "Automolus" is not a word in the English language.  The name "Rufous-chested" has not been widely used for this taxon in recent history.”


Comments from Jaramillo: “YES – I prefer Santa Marta Foliage-Gleaner.”


Comments from Schulenberg: “YES. I don't have a strong preference for one English name over the other. There's no lack of "Santa Marta" thises and thats, but that's probably more informative than "Rufous-chested.”


Comments from Robbins: “YES.  I agree with Niel’s suggestion of “Santa Marta Foliage-Gleaner.”


Comments from Stiles: “YES (again, just to complete the voting roster ... the reasons adduced by Van and others are quite convincing.)”


Comments from Pacheco: “YES.  Em concordância com os dados apresentados no artigo de Krabbe e comentários aqui expostos.”