Proposal (543A) to South American Classification Committee



English names for Schiffornis (genus and species), Part 2


Now that everyone has voted on 543, we still have some work to do.  Please continue to refer to 543 for discussion of pros and cons of various names.


The results were unanimous for retaining Schiffornis as the English group names.


The names of 2 of the 5 taxa are set because even if all the votes went to the second-place winner, they would not surpass the vote total of the winner:


Schiffornis olivacea = Guianan Schiffornis

Schiffornis aenea = Foothill Schiffornis


That leaves S. veraepacis, S. stenorhyncha, and S. turdina with contested names.  So, I think the best way to do this is to take the leading name in each case and propose that we use that, with a NO vote favoring one of the runner-up names.  The latter excludes names that received minimal support, but does include a couple of late suggestions that many did not consider when voting.  If a leader is voted down, then we’ll try the runner-up, and if that doesn’t work, we’ll just do a simple majority vote.


A. Schiffornis veraepacis:  The leader was Western with 18 points, so a YES vote endorses that.  A NO vote indicates a preference for either Northern or Brown.


B. Schiffornis stenorhyncha: The leader was Russet-winged with 11 points, so a YES vote endorses that.  A NO vote indicates a preference for either Pale-bellied or Russet.


C. Schiffornis turdina: The leader was Eastern with 16 points, so a YES vote endorses that.  A NO vote indicates a preference for Brazilian, Amazonian, Brown-winged, or Four-whistle (the latter included because it was only proposed a few days ago).


Van Remsen, November 2012



Comments from Remsen:

“A.  NO.  I’ve changed my mind on this one, especially after reading Tom’s comments.  As long as we’re going to have to use an insipid “compass” name, the outstanding feature of this species’ distribution is how much farther north it extends than any other member of the genus, much less species group; that it is the westernmost is not as important in my opinion.  Brown is definitely out in my opinion – see Gary’s and my comments in 543.

B.  YES.  Russet-winged accurately emphasizes a distinguishing feature of the species.

C.  NO.  I like Brown-winged because it emphasizes the contrast with Russet-winged for these presumably parapatric species.  Although Amazonian and Brazilian were criticized for being misleading, I think Eastern is just as misleading because a big chunk of its range is in what we typically refer to as “western Amazonia”.  Yes, it is east of S. veraepacis, but such Eastern-Western names are typically associated with parapatric sister taxa, which is not the case here.  Also, the same arguments applied against Northern also can be applied here the range of Guianan is east of much of the range of putative Eastern.”


Comments from Schulenberg:

A.  NO. "Northern" works just fine, for reasons outlined previously.

B.  YES.

C.  NO. I prefer "Brown", for reasons outlined previously, but could live with "Brown-winged".


Comments from Thomas Donegan: “These are some comments on Northern versus Western.  I am not sure there is any consensus on defining the basis for determining appropriate compass cardinals in vernacular names, but using any of the measures I could think of, Western is better than Northern.

“First, dealing with the comments about the "significance" of the northern versus eastern extension of veraepacis: veraepacis occurs marginally more to the West of other species than it does to the North (see map 1 below).  In reality, northern and southern extensions as regards other species are very similar in size.  Any notion of the significance of northern-ness would be subjective and based on the northerly as opposed to westerly extension of southern Central America being more biologically important.  (It is appreciated that the AOU splits the Americas North / South somewhere around the Darién gap.)  In terms of latitude and longitude there is little in it, but Western wins.


Schiffornis - northern versus southern with lat and long


“Another measure of northerliness / westerliness could be by positive or negative definitions of ranges (map 2).  There are three ways of looking at this:

1.     The most Northerly / most Westerly.  S. veraepacis is both, so a tie.

2.     Other taxa that veraepacis overlaps with.  S. veraepacis overlaps in its southern/northern (latitudinal) distribution with all four other ex-turdina species (stenorhyncha, olivacea, turdina and aenea).  It overlaps in its western-ness only with two of them (stenorhyncha and aenea).  Western is better on this measure.

3.     Opposite ends of the distribution / the misnomer issue.  S. veraepacis occurs further South than do both stenorhyncha and olivacea.  S. veraepacis does not occur further East than any other taxon in the group.   Western is better on this measure.  (S. veraepacis is pretty much tied with aenea in both eastern-ness and southern-ness though I suspect the latter to be overlooked in northern Peru and to therefore defeat veraepacis on both counts so it is not included in either count here.)


Schiffornis - northern versus southern negatively defined


“A further possible measure would be to produce a best-fit line separating out the maximum distribution by area of veraepacis from that of its congeners together.  This is done by eye in map 3 below and produces a generally North-South line broadly following the Andes.  There is only a slight West-East bias.  This again implies that the more substantial difference between veraepacis and others is in its western-ness and not its northern-ness.

Schiffornis - northern versus southern best fit


“Another final possible measure would be to use centroids of populations and compare them to the centroid for old ex-S. turdina.  This has been done in map 4 below, again only by eye.  S. veraepacis is very much north-west.  There are two species with more northern (i.e. close to 0°N) centroid differences with respect to the group centroid (i.e. stenorhyncha and olivacea).  This is not suggested as a particularly good measure, but included for completeness.


Schiffornis - northern versus southern Centroids

Birders in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Belize seeing these birds should not have an issue with using either the name "Western" or "Northern".  A very good reason not to use "Northern" over "Western" is to think of how the names would be used in the four other countries in which S. veraepacis occurs together with another related Schiffornis species.  It is in those countries that field observers will be trying to distinguish between and remember the names.  In Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, S. veraepacis is very much the western species, occurring West of the Andes.  In contrast, turdina and aenea are both Eastern in the same countries, so the Western label would be actually quite helpful and useful.  In Colombia, things would get really confusing if "Northern" were to be used for S. veraepacis – because another species (S. stenorhyncha) occurs in northern Colombia whilst S. veraepacis has a western distribution in the Chocó.  Finally, Panama defines itself in west-east terms usually rather than north-south terms.  S. veraepacis occurs throughout but is the exclusive "Schiffornis turdina" present in western Panama.  In Eastern Panama, both occur, so "Western" whilst not a perfect name at least provides a good clue for remembering which is which.

In conclusion, I cannot see any measure of northern-ness versus southern-ness which would mean that the name "Northern" is better.  Under one measure ("most extreme part of range": part 1 of map 2), it is a tie.  Under all other measures, Western is better.  Northern would be a really confusing name in three countries in which it occurs.  Perhaps "North-western" would also be good, but if a single cardinal is to be used for veraepacis, it should definitely be "Western".


Response from Remsen: “Although I appreciate Thomas’s points and the effort to illustrate them, my switch to Northern has nothing to do with which compass direction fits best quantitatively.  Rather, my preference for Northern has to do with the biological significance of this species’ extension to Mexico, significantly farther north than any member of the genus.  For me, the N-S axis is biologically more important than the W-E axis, which would be better reflected in a name such as Trans-Andean.  Did we ever consider “Northwestern” as an alternative?  I’m not sure if any Neotropical species has such a name, one typically associated in W. Hemisphere with the Pacific “Northwest” region of North America.”

Comments from Stiles:

A. YES - especially for South America it’s clearly the best and for overall distribution, arguably better as per Thomas's comments; given that its range is essentially southern, not northern, Middle America and that most people in at least North America think of Middle America as a north-to-south, rather than east-to west geographic entity, I don't see any great confusion being caused by Western).

B. YES, for reasons stated by Van - it is especially useful in separating this species from its most similar congener.

C. A tentative NO.  I like Brown-winged for the reasons stated under stenorhyncha; my only real caveat is that I don't know if the easternmost races of this species have equally non-contrasting brown wings (Fernando??).  If not, I'll stick with Eastern. I also note that this is the species most likely to suffer further splitting, and Eastern, being insipid, is perhaps the least lamentable to bury should further splitting apply (although on the other hand, if those northeastern populations are the ones to be split off, Eastern might yet be useful for them, with Amazonian applied for the form inhabiting the vast majority of the Amazon basin).”


Comments from Robbins:

“A.  NO. I agree with Van and Tom on this one, Northern more accurately reflects this taxon’s distribution in comparison to other taxa in this complex.

B.  YES. Russet-winged highlights the one distinguishing character of this species.

C. NO. If we go with Russet-winged for stenorhyncha, then it seems logical to invoke Brown-winged for turdina.”