Proposal (48) to South American Classification Committee


Change English names of Cinclodes taczanowskii and C. nigrofumosus


Effect on South American CL: This proposal would change the English names of two species on our list from "Meyer de Schauensee" names to a "Ridgely-Tudor" names.


Background: Cory & Hellmayr (1925) considered the two taxa as separate species and called them "Taczanowski's Cinclodes" and "D'Orbigny's Cinclodes." Meyer de Schauensee (1970) considered them conspecific and called the composite species, C. nigrofumosus, "Seaside Cinclodes." Sibley & Monroe (1990) followed Peters (1951) and Vaurie (1980) in considering them separate species and used "Seaside" for C. nigrofumosus and "Surf Cinclodes" for C. taczanowskii, as suggested by Meyer de Schauensee (1966)Ridgely & Tudor (1994) used "Peruvian Seaside-Cinclodes" and "Chilean Seaside-Cinclodes," with the following note:


"It seems confusing to call nigrofumosus the Seaside Cinclodes and taczanowskii the Surf Cinclodes, as has been suggested (Meyer de Schauensee 1966) -- at least we can never remember which is which! We prefer to use geographical epithets."


Dickinson (2003) and Remsen (2003) maintained Sibley & Monroe's "Seaside Cinclodes" and "Surf Cinclodes."


Analysis: This is a "contest" between the recent trend towards creating compound names to identify sister species and simpler names that are less clear on those relationships. The compound names are technically more "accurate" and have an appeal in signaling a split of allospecies once considered conspecific. They also avoid confusion in cases in which one of the split species might bear the name of the composite species, as in the case at hand, i.e., use of "Seaside" for nigrofumosus sensu stricto vs. use of that same name for the broader, composite species. However, the shorter names are easier to deal with and avoid the often awkward and odd and novel hyphenated combinations, e.g., "Seaside-Cinclodes." The latter also create problems for indexing, i.e., they would be in an index under "S" as "Seaside-Cinclodes" rather than under "C" for their congeneric "Cinclodes."


Recommendation: I vote "NO" on this proposal. The technocrat in me likes the compound names for their "precision." However, my sense of what the users of English names prefer is that they like shorter, simpler names and do not mind the potential loss of information in terms of sister species -- they either don't care or are capable of remembering this without the help of the name. Perhaps those of you who lead bird tours can relay what "the people" prefer. My "traditionalist" side certainly prefers the shorter names. Nonetheless, I suspect that whatever we decide on this one, the planet will continue to rotate on its axis.


Literature Cited:


CORY, C. B., AND C. E. HELLMAYR. 1925. Catalogue of birds of the Americas Field Mus. Nat. Hist. Publ., Zool. Ser., vol. 13, pt. 4.

DICKINSON, E. C. (ed.). 2003. The Howard and Moore complete checklist of the birds of the World, Revised and enlarged 3rd Edition. Christopher Helm, London, 1040 pp.

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.

PETERS, J. L. 1951. Check-list of birds of the world, vol. 7. Museum of Comparative Zoology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

REMSEN, J. V., JR. 2003 (in press). Family Furnariidae (ovenbirds). Pp. #-# in "Handbook of the Birds of the World," Vol. 8. Broadbills to Tapaculos (del Hoyo, J. et al., eds.). Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

RIDGELY, R. S., AND G. TUDOR. 1994. The birds of South America, vol. 2. 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.

VAURIE, C. 1980. Taxonomy and geographical distribution of the Furnariidae (Aves, Passeriformes). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 166: 1-357.


Van Remsen, July 2003 




Comments from Zimmer: "I vote "no", mainly for simplicity (although I must  confess that the geographic names proposed by Bob do have some appeal on the grounds of being more informative)."


Comments from Schulenberg: "My vote: No (i.e., my vote is to retain the names Seaside Cinclodes and Surf Cinclodes for taczanowskii and nigrofumosus, respectively). At least some of us have shown tendencies in the past to cast votes from time to time that contradict our general sense of "how things ought to be". So, how each of us votes in this present case may not signify anything for how we will vote down the line. Whether or not we vote to adopt "seaside-cinclodes" as a group name for these two species, however, we will be faced in the future with many other instances in which we will be forced to choose whether to adopt, or to create, compound group names. Therefore, this proposal may represent something of a crossroads in terms of how we approach English names in the future.


"My personal thinking is that the willy-nilly adoption of compound group names is a bad idea. There are several reasons why I am against such names:


"1) Compound group names result in names that are long and cumbersome. I already am on record as favoring, other factors being equal, shorter names over longer names. To me a short simple name just is a more effective way to communicate. I think that basically this is what the "user community" prefers as well. (I take the "user community" primarily to be those who prefer English names over scientific names; I prefer the scientific names, but not everyone does, otherwise we wouldn't have to worry about this.) In North America, for example, we have dropped most complex compound names (e.g., "Black-backed Three-toed Woodpecker") in favor of simpler forms ("Black-backed Woodpecker"), and as far as I can tell everyone is quite happy with this. There are a few holdovers ("Salt-marsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow" and "Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow"), but such names clearly are awkward in every way, shape and form; I doubt that any such name has much of a constituency behind it; I'd also bet that plenty of people are dissatisfied with both names (not that I have any data to back me up); and I expect that it is a matter of time before those names in turn are simplified to something reasonable. 


"In the present case, "Peruvian Seaside-Cinclodes" and "Chilean Seaside-Cinclodes" are only moderately complex formulations. But we are going to be faced with many more such options, as more species are split. Many of these cases will lead to more complicated names, if the basic notion of compound group names becomes widely adopted as the name-forming template of choice. Polytypic taxa such as Hypocnemis cantator Warbling Antbird, Percnostola leucostigma (Spot-winged Antbird), Tolmomyias sulphurescens (Yellow-olive Flycatcher), among many, many others, for example, are but one taxonomic revision away from being shown to be composed of multiple species. This could lead to proposed names such as a whole series of "Xxxxx-xxxx Warbling-Antbird", "Xxxxxx Spot-winged Antbird", or even of "Xxxxx-xxxx Yellow-olive Flycatcher". Ugh.


"I find such long or complex names to be totally lacking in appeal. I'd prefer to stamp out the whole notion of compound group names at  the earliest opportunity (and I'm happy to interpret this case as the  first such opportunity).


" 2) One purpose of compound group names seems to be to identify relationships, such as between sister-taxa or members of a superspecies; but is this true, and is this important?


"To begin with, we often *assume*, when splitting a species, that  the constituent taxa are sister species, but this assumed relationship rarely is documented. And sometimes when we set out to clarify such relationships, we are in for a surprise. In North America, for example, Baltimore and Bullock's orioles have, in the past, been treated as conspecific due to hybridization. While it may be easy to assume that these two hybridizing taxa are sister species, the available genetic evidence suggests that in fact this is not the case. Even more interesting is the example of the recently described Chapada Flycatcher Suiriri islerorum (K. Zimmer et al. 2001). Specimens of this cryptic species already existed in museum collections and were placed among series of the Suiriri Flycatcher Suiriri suiriri. In describing islerorum, Zimmer et al. could have proposed a compound group name, such as "Chapada Suiriri-Flycatcher" and "Common [or Campo, or whatever" Suiriri-Flycatcher", to indicate the close affinities of the two taxa, which had been similar enough to long confuse museum workers. Unpublished genetic data, however, which is alluded to but not discussed in the species description of islerorum, suggests that these two taxa are so divergent that they may not even belong to the same tyrannid subfamily -- much less the same genus. 


"So, in sum, I am leery of automatically assuming a sister-species or superspecies relationship between taxa that are being split, and in codifying such an assumption through adoption of a compound group name. I admit that the cases such as the ones that I have cited above may be the exception rather than the rule, but the exceptions seem to be frequent enough to give me pause.


'In any event, I am not convinced that the adoption of a compound group name conveys the message that was intended. As Van mentioned, the idea of the compound group name is to signal relationships. The flip side of this is that adoption of a compound group name also serves to highlight the underlying similarities of the taxa in question, arguably undermining their status as species. The message conveyed could be, "I studied these birds and I studied these birds [or, "I'm writing a field guide and I don't want to take the time to study these birds, but I'm guessing that ..."], and at the end of it all I find enough little differences that I've convinced myself that these two are different species. I hope I can convince you of that as well, and so I've given them different names, which are variations on the old name; but my new names are similar enough that, if I can't convince that they are different species, well, you can go back to lumping them, strip my modifiers off of the old name, and we can just pretend this whole thing never happened". 


" In other words, the use of a compound group name arguably reinforces the idea that the taxa involved are just variations on a theme, and not all that different to begin with. If one really thinks that these are different species, then why not go ahead and give them *different* names? 


"And in the end, a name is a name. Nothing more, nothing less. A name is simply something we use to identify something. We get by fine in Latin with two words (genus and species). I don't see why we should go out of our way to use more than two words in English, although often that does happen. We don't saddle scientific names with baggage about trying to "be helpful" and express ecological and phylogenetic relationships. In fact, in part that is why we HAVE a system of scientific names based on two words. Linnaeus successfully solved a problem that stemmed, in part, from naturalists getting carried away with overly long and overly descriptive scientific names. Linnaeus was hailed as a genus for developing a simple, elegant solution: the fewer words the better. Why mess with success? I'm not advocating a two word system of English names, but I think that we should not forget the great success of the binomial system either, and we should strive to stick closer, rather than farther, to its underlying philosophy. 


"3) I find it interesting to note when compound group names are coined. In the vast majority of cases, compound group names are adopted when a polytypic species is split. In other words, even those authors who like to "tinker" with English names and propose new names as an "improvement" over the old rarely do so *except* when dealing with a taxonomic revision. This suggests that compound group names don't really have all of the "advantages" that are attributed to them, but in fact are little more than a crutch to help overcome the problem of creating brand new English names. In fact, some people have argued to me that because there are just so many taxa of South American birds, and especially since many of them are rather drab, that it just is "too hard" to coin many new names. Therefore, the argument seems to be, "we just have to" adopt compound group names so as to simplify the whole process.


"I'm sympathetic to the idea that coining names is difficult, and that many Neotropical taxa present challenges in this regard. But at the same time, my response would be, "Try harder". Niels Krabbe and I were faced with a major challenge when we proposed elevating most taxa of Scytalopus tapaculos to species status, and described several new species as well. Birds hardly come more similar to one another than do taxa of Scytalopus. But we managed to find names for all without resorting to any compound group name gimmicks. I admit I don't look forward to going through something like that again, but I hope this shows that one doesn't have to be too eager to reach for compound group names as a crutch. 


" 4) Again, I realize that the present case, involving two taxa of "seaside-cinclodes", is a minor example. Most of my commentary is looking beyond the present case towards what may come our way in the future, with more complex names. But I am voting the present name change down because of my general distaste for compound group names, which I find to be overly pedantic, aesthetically awkward, flying directly in the face of major trends in the spoken form of English (i.e., trends towards simplification, not towards greater complexity), and contrary to the standards of our parallel (scientific) nomenclature. *Otherwise*, I guess I see nothing wrong with compound group names in general, or "seaside-cinclodes" in particular. "


Comments from Robbins: "I vote "yes" to accepting Ridgely and Tudor's English names for C. taczanowskii and C. nigrofumosus. Despite Tom's commentary on compound names (a few items which I take issue with), I feel that the R & T names are more informative and clearer than the "current" names. Using "seaside-cinclodes" is no more of a burden than using "mountain-toucan", "pygmy-owl", or "ground-tyrant" --  all of these and many others are quite useful for not only communication among birdwatchers, but these compound names are effective when people like us, who primarily use scientific names, communicate with birders and the general non-birdwatching public. Having said the above, I'm not for wholesale usage of compound-names, e.g., see my vote on proposal #53."


Comments from Stiles: " NO. I dislike this sort of hyphenated group name. Not only do such names sound ugly and pedantic, but also they are often actively misleading. Barn-Owl for a bunch of species that probably never see a barn, much less roost or nest in one? Slaty-Antshrike for species in a family in which a number of slatier ones exist, just because certain ones were formerly lumped (and therefore are presumed to be sister species, something by no means always the case, especially in suboscines)? Etc."


Comments from Jaramillo: "NO -- keep old names. Wow, there is a lot of interesting stuff to read in member's comments. I like the geographic information in the Ridgely/Tudor names, but I dislike the hyphenated and complex names. Peruvian and Chilean cinclodes would do fine if they weren't a brand new set of names; I am not suggesting we do this, but wanted to note that the "seaside" part is not necessary. The question of whether these two taxa are sister species is relevant in this case. First of all, in a general sense all Cinclodes look alike, and as such the taczanowskii and nigrofumosus are not really more similar to each other than to other species, except for their large size. In terms of plumage C. patagonicus is closer to nigrofumosus than is taczanowskii. The fact that the two 'seaside-cinclodes' are never found away from the coast is an important ecological characteristic. However, C. antarcticus is similarly closely tied to the ocean. The Falkland subspecies is found in the uplands, but as far as I have been able to gather the Patagonian subspecies is coastal or nearly so. Similarly, in winter C. oustaleti forages in the splash zone, and from my experience in Chile this is its sole winter habitat. This contrasts with other common Cinclodes (fuscus, patagonicus), which seldom if ever forage right on the coast. The little known form of oustaleti on the Juan Fernandez Islands may be a coastal obligate, but this needs to be confirmed. As such even the ecologically special trait that the group name "seaside-cinclodes" informs about may only be partially informative. Vocally, nigrofumosus is similar to patagonicus and antarcticus (I have no vocal info for taczanowskii). I point all this out to suggest that Cinclodes systematics is far from clear, and certainly sister species relationship between taczanowskii and nigrofumosus is by no means a certainty. Finally, the seaside term in the compound name does not include all taxa that inhabit coasts (at least most of the time) and as such could be seen to be more misleading than informative. So count my vote as a NO, keep the old names.”


Comments from Stotz: " NO. Although Seaside and Surf Cinclodes are not an ideal pair, I think creating a compound name is a mistake. I really think compound names should be used basically only in cases where the name is a group name of a recognize genus or at least subgenus. I realize that we have not always done this (or probably even usually done this), but without this a guideline then we have no logical basis for the decision to create a compound group name or not. So I would under this theory consider the use of xxxx Scrub-Flycatcher as acceptable, but oppose the use of xxxx Streaked-Antwren or xxxx Slaty-Antshrike.. I think it create such a subunit within a larger genus, you’d need to be certain that the group was monophyletic, and that the remainder of the genus was also a monophyletic unit.”


Comments from Nores: "[YES] Si. Yo ya le había dicho que, si en otra carta porque me parecía que podía ser apropiado, pero veo que la mayoría votaron NO."