Proposal (665) to South American Classification Committee


Note: This proposal was originally submitted to NACC, which voted to accept (7 to 3) the proposal and implemented it into NACC classification (Chesser et al. 2013 Supplement in Auk)


Revise the classification of sandpipers and turnstones (Arenariinae)


The highly diverse smaller sandpipers and turnstones have long been considered to constitute one or two subfamilies or tribes of 26 closely related genera and species.  Gibson and Baker (2012) produced a DNA sequence-based phylogeny of the shorebird suborder Scolopaci, which includes the sandpiper genera and species under consideration here.  They concluded that these sandpipers constitute one of 8 monophyletic subfamilies in the shorebird family Scolopacidae.  They found that the sandpiper subfamily consists of two clades, the two species of Arenaria in one, and 24 species in an assemblage containing the genus Calidris in the other.  Combining the turnstones and “typical” sandpipers into a single subfamily creates a classification novelty, and the name Arenariinae has priority over Calidridinae (Banks 2012).  Gibson and Baker (2012) also found that the sandpipers now placed in that the currently recognized monotypic genera Aphriza, Tryngites, Limicola, Eurynorhynchus, and Philomachus could be merged into the genus Calidris.  They did not, however produce an actual listing of these taxa with the proper nomenclatural acts.  This was done by Banks (2012).


I propose that we accept the phylogenetic results of Gibson and Baker (2012) and the resultant classification and nomenclature of Banks (2012) and list these sandpipers and turnstones as follows [extralimital taxa in gray]:


Genus Arenaria Brisson, 1760

interpres (Linnaeus, 1758)             Ruddy Turnstone

melanocephala (Vigors, 1829)       Black Turnstone


Genus Calidris Merrem, 1804                

tenuirostris (Horsefield, 1821)        Great Knot

canutus (Linnaeus, 1858)              Red Knot

virgata (Gmelin, 1789)                   Surfbird

pugnax (Linnaeus, 1758)               Ruff

falcinellus (Pontoppidan, 1763)      Broad-billed Sandpiper

acuminata (Horsefield, 1821)          Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

himantopus (Bonaparte,1826)       Stilt Sandpiper

ferruginea (Pontoppidan, 1763)     Curlew Sandpiper

temminckii (Leisler, 1812)              Temminck’s Stint

subminuta (Middendorff, 1851)      Long-toed Stint

pygmea (Linnaeus,1758)               Spoon-billed Sandpiper

ruficollis (Pallas, 1776)                   Red-necked Stint

alba (Pallas, 1764)                         Sanderling

alpina (Linnaeus, 1758)                 Dunlin

ptilocnemis (Coues, 1873)             Rock Sandpiper

maritima (Brünnich, 1764)             Purple Sandpiper

bairdii (Coues, 1861)                     Baird’s Sandpiper

minuta (Leisler, 1812)                    Little Stint

minutilla (Vieillot, 1819)                           Least Sandpiper

fuscicollis (Vieillot, 1819)               White-rumped Sandpiper

subruficollis (Vieillot, 1819)            Buff-breasted Sandpiper

melanotos (Vieillot, 1819)              Pectoral Sandpiper

pusilla (Linnaeus, 1766)                Semipalmated Sandpiper

mauri (Cabanis, 1857)                   Western Sandpiper


It follows that the generic names Aphriza, Tryngites, Limicola, Eurynorhynchus, and Philomachus be placed in the synonymy of Calidris, along with those already there. 


The designation of the type species of the generic name Erolia should be corrected, as well, as indicated by Banks (2102).  We (and others) now, for a long time, give it as “type, by monotypy, Erolia variegata Vieillot = Scolopax testacea Pallas.”  Because ferruginea is an earlier name for the same species as testacea, it should read “type species, by monotypy, Erolia variegata Vieillot = Tringa ferruginea Pontoppidan. 


Banks, Richard C.  2012.  Classification and nomenclature of the sandpipers (Aves: Arenariinae).  Zootaxa 3513: 86-88.  [pdf available on request, ]

Gibson, R., and Baker, A.  2012.  Multiple gene sequences resolve phylogenetic relationships in the shorebird suborder Scolopaci (Aves: Charadriiformes).  Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 64: 66-72.


Richard C. Banks, December 2014



Note from Remsen: here is a screen grab of the tree in Gibson & Baker; nodes without support values have 100% support.






Comments from Remsen: “YES.  Here’s what I wrote in my NACC comments: I reviewed early versions of Dick’s paper and agree with his classification. The decision here is largely subjective. Losing distinctive Philomachus and Tryngites is “uncomfortable”, but the alternative, namely splitting broad Calidris into a multitude of genera, is even more so. To keep Tryngites, for example, one would have to recognize at least 7 other genera, by my count, including naming a new one for C. bairdii, and the “peeps” would be scattered in at least three genera. To keep just Philomachus would be less painful but would require placing Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in monotypic Limnocinclus or merging it Limicola with Broad-billed Sandpiper (ugh). Trying to be objective as possible, the branching pattern in Gibson & Baker (2012) has the look of a very twiggy bush with short branches connecting most of the deep nodes, i.e., an explosive radiation. I recognize that an even broader-than-present Calidris would be unusually heterogeneous, but I see no better solution in terms of generic limits. As an aside, sinking Eurynorhynchus is long overdue; yes, we are all impressed with the bizarre bill tip, but otherwise it’s very similar plumage-wise to the species now revealed as its sister, Calidris ruficollis.

            “Note also that that the branch lengths separating the groups are generally very short, thus suggesting a starburst pattern of rapid diversification; also note that the node that unites broadly defined Calidris is at the same general depth as the nodes that unite other genera in the Scolopacidae.

            “The three NO votes in the NACC comments complained understandably about creating such a broad, heterogeneous genus, but the only one who offered solutions compatible with the tree was Doug, who wrote the following:


NO, but YES to fixing the classification to be consistent with Gibson and Baker’s results. I think I agree with Pam on this. This approach of lumping everybody into Calidris is at odds with what we have done in most other groups. I do agree with Van that we can’t realistically rescue all of the current genera, Tryngites being the most difficult. But I think that lumping everything into Calidris obscures more than it helps. My suggestion would be the 4-genus solution.  That would be Calidris for the knots plus surfbird, Philomachus for Ruff, Limicola for Broad-billed + Sharp-tailed, and Ereunetes (looks to be the oldest name) for all the rest. I recognize that Limicola for those 2 species is both novel and not intuitive. I think though that because of that, we might get more attention paid to these birds. I suspect Calidris for everybody might very well end the discussion.”


Comments from Cadena: “YES. Like Van, I prefer the rather heterogeneous genus than a variety of genera each containing species very similar to those in other genera.”


Comments from Jaramillo: “YES. I hate the thought of that huge Calidris genus, but it seems that novel plumages, behaviors, bill tips come and go. The only suggestion that I would consider is splitting out the knots, as they are distinctive in shape, pattern of alternate upperparts, and fall out as a clean break from the rest. However, if they keep Calidris and we rename the rest, well that is even more confusing. I think keeping all of those in Calidris may be the way to go, however unpalatable.”


Comments from Pacheco: “YES.  Although the option for a heterogeneous “Calidris” is open to criticism, it must be accepted that the same results of phylogeny indicated a rapid diversification in this group.”


Comments from Stotz: “NO, I should probably vote YES on this to create consistency with NACC, but I still like the 4-genus alternative I suggested.  If my vote mattered, I’d probably vote YES, but since it doesn’t I’ll continue to tilt at this particular windmill.”


Comments from Zimmer: “YES.  As others have expressed, I’m not thrilled with the idea of recognizing such a broadly defined, “fuzzy” Calidris.  But most of the alternatives are even less appealing to me.  Doug’s “four genera” proposal is intriguing, but the required Sharp-tailed + Broad-billed combination in Limicola just doesn’t feel right.  So, I guess, of the options, I would favor the more inclusive, broadly defined Calidris (as in the proposal).”