Proposal (846) to South American Classification Committee



Accept Cinclodes lopezlanusorum as a valid species


Undoubtedly inspired by the splitting of Upucerthia saturatior from Upucerthia dumetaria (Areta and Pearman 2009), López-Lanús (2019) wrote a paper suggesting that Cinclodes fuscus is composed of two parapatric, sibling species, one, which he described and named Cinclodes lopezlanusorum, exclusively inhabiting Nothofagus forest, and the other, Cinclodes fuscus, exclusively inhabiting open areas of both Patagonian steppe and the high Andes. Unlike the case of the earthcreeper, however, these two putative species are so sibling that they cannot be told apart genetically, vocally, or morphologically. It is stated that apart from habitat they differ from each other in some vocalizations, display flight, migration, and time of breeding, and that none of them occurs in the ecotone between their respective habitats, but the sample sizes are much too small to substantiate any of this. The elaborate descriptions of a “display flight” are particularly disturbing. Like Upucerthia species (Areta and Pearman 2009), Cinclodes species are not known to have ritualized display flights at all, but may sing from perch or in flight alike. Why does the author not simply conclude that like Andean and Chilean flickers Colaptes rupicola and C. pitius, the Buff-winged Cinclodes will nest in any cavity, be it in a tree, an embankment, or between rocks – that the ecotone where none of them was found was not investigated thoroughly enough or simply lacked suitable nesting sites – and that vocal difference just reflects the range of variation within a single species?


C. fuscus gives a number of different vocalizations, so when dividing the recordings into the 20(!) different vocal types suggested, there are only few examples of each. To find two that are directly comparable is only possible with the most common vocalizations, and there is a good chance some of the vocal types would be missing from any set of recordings with a similar size as that presented (38 of C. lopezlanusorum, 31 of C. fuscus). I compared 146 recordings of C. fuscus, 22 of C. oustaleti, 10 of C. olrogi, and 59 of C. albiventris, and found that song varies considerably in composition between individuals, sometimes even within a bout of song by a single individual. In fact, except for the most common call, I did not find any two recordings of different individuals to be as identical as recordings of most other suboscines are. The same has been reported to hold true for Upucerthia (Areta and Pearman 2009).


It is extremely tedious to work through the 34 pages of the paper. It almost seems as if the author has deliberately both convoluted and stretched the relevant data into a nearly unreadable form and then used a rare font (Agency FB) that makes one feel like being in a labyrinth. It appears that the approach is to come up with possible ways of making data fit the initial theory (that two species are involved), rather than focusing on the likeliness of alternative explanations. That the two are genetically identical in Cytochrome C oxidase subunit 1 does not deter López-Lanús, who does not even bother to give details on methods and procedure of the genetic work. He simply considers it a case of recent speciation and compares it to the Pseudocolopteryx flaviventris/citreola case (see SACC proposal 420), omitting the fact that those two species, although genetically very similar (Jordan 2018), differ drastically in vocalizations and do not respond to each other’s songs.


It is noteworthy that of the 25 days of field work mentioned, 16 were spent in Santa Cruz (Calafate to PN Los Glaciares), where Imberti (2005) had found C. fuscus in both forest and open areas, whereas López-Lanús during three consecutive years there only found it in open areas. This casts doubt on the significance of observed absence. On top of that, the mere idea of an ecotone with suitable nest sites not being occupied by any of the two strikes me as unlikely.


Like the two other new species of birds described in appendices to previous releases of Guía Audiornis (Sicalis holmbergi [= S. auriventris; see SACC proposal 748], and Sporophila digiacomoi [= S. iberaensis; see SACC proposal 715]), the description of Cinclodes lopezlanusorum has not been through a critical reviewer process. Two anonymous reviewers are thanked in the acknowledgments section, but as the author and the editor are one and the same, there is no guarantee that the reviewers’ recommendations were followed. In fact, I strongly suspect that they were not.


I can only recommend that you vote NO to this proposal.


Literature Cited:


ARETA, J. I., AND M. PEARMAN.  2009.  Natural history, morphology, evolution, and taxonomic status of the earthcreeper Upucerthia saturatior (Furnariidae) from the Patagonian forests of South America.  Condor 111: 135-149.

IMBERTI, S.  2005.  Aves de los Glaciares, Inventario Ornitológico del Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Edición de Aves Argentinas y Administración de Parques Nacionales. Buenos Aires.

JORDAN, E.  2018.  Filogenia, biogeografía y evolución del comportamiento en los doraditos (Pseudocolopteryx: Tyrannidae: Aves).  PhD Dissertation. Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Argentina. (embargoed until March 25 2020)

LÓPEZ-LANÚS, B.  2019.  Una nueva especie de remolinera (Furnariidae: Cinclodes) de la región Andino-Patagónica, endémico-reproductiva de bosques de lenga (Nothofagus pumilio) con morfotipo arbóreo.  En pp.475-509: López-Lanús, B. Guía Audiornis de las aves de Argentina, fotos y sonidos; identificación por características contra puestas y marcas sobre imágenes. Tercera edición. Audiornis Producciones. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 544 págs.  ISBN 978-987-783-666-0 (2019). Pdf downloadable at



Niels K. Krabbe January 2020




Comments from Remsen:  NO, for all the reasons stated in the proposal.  Such anomalous results require replication before acceptance.  Tangentially, the species name, regardless of actual derivation, is bad form.”


Comments from Areta: “NO. I find numerous reasons for not recognizing this taxon at the species level, and possibly for not recognizing it at all. López-Lanús (2019) supports the view that birds in narrow parapatry, breeding in different habitats, and that cannot be identified by plumage, vocalizations and (presumably) genetics, are actually two species. It would be a unique and exceptional case in the World, and one that would for that same reason demand strong evidence and, possibly, a new conceptual framework to be intelligible. I echo Niel’s comments regarding the difficulty of reading the very long description, given how convoluted, verbose, and ambiguous the text is in numerous passages. I also applaud Neil’s effort to compare recordings of other Cinclodes and to use data from the genus Upucerthia, sister to Cinclodes, to put context to the discussion.


“Despite the difficulties, the information used to propose the existence of a new species of Cinclodes is clear and, as such it can be subjected to evaluation. I base this evaluation in the original Spanish description.


“1) It is not clear whether the publication is Code compliant or not. The author seems to be unaware that the registration for an ISBN is different from a proof of date of publication. No ZooBank registration number is provided. The article has been made available online but it is not clear when it was first printed (there seems to be no way of testing so, no matter what is claimed by parties) or distributed (both, printing and distribution presumably being done by the author). In sum, a sea of possibilities that cannot be tested by other than asking the author himself, surround the evaluation of the formal availability of the name. This in itself points to the lack of either rigor or interest in following good practices in taxonomy. Regardless of the formal aspect of the description, the evidence presented in the publication strongly suggests that other interpretations are more consistent with the available data.


“2) Unsupported reasons. The author puts forward 17 reasons for treating the new taxon at the species level as distinct from Cinclodes fuscus. However, most of these points have either not been rigorously assessed, constitute pseudoreplications, or are direct logical derivations from previous points. I have added my comments after --- following the literal citations of the 17 points:


“‘1) Diferenciación excluyente en algunas de sus vocalizaciones en relación a la reverberación de las notas como fenómeno acústico condicionante’ --- None of the vocalizations that have been recorded prove to be diagnosable, and examination of spectrograms show indeed that vocalizations are not qualitatively diagnosable. Given the variation in the rate, number, shape, and tempo of notes in the songs and continuous songs of Cinclodes and Upucerthia, the spectrograms purported are consistent with what I would expect to occur as natural variation within a single species. The mention of reverberations as exclusive of the new taxon is extremely confusing because a) reverberation is not an intrinsic property of sound (it has to do with reflection and absorption affecting the sound in the habitat in which it is broadcasted), and b) the author himself shows that vocalizations of C. fuscus broadcasted in an exotic forest in the Pampas produce reverberations (thereby confirming that the physics of sound apply to understand this specific taxonomic case).


“’2) La composición única y exclusiva de algunas vocalizaciones junto a un comportamiento asociado único (vuelo nupcial);’ --- Pseudoreplication of points 1 and 3.


“’3) La ejecución exclusiva de este comportamiento (vuelo nupcial) único entre los dos taxones estudiados’ --- This so-called nuptial flight is proposed to be unique to the new taxon; however, there seems nothing special about it: all Cinclodes and Upucerthia species that have been subjected to serious studies can sing while flying, and the songs they give in flight are much like those given while perched, either while raising-rotating wings or not (exactly as in the purportedly new taxon). As such, the lack of evidence of flight-song in C. fuscus could simply be indicating the lack of more sampling. To illustrate this, I would like to state that Upucerthia dumetaria possess a peculiar dawn-song that has been overlooked by all researchers, and of which I was not aware of until 2 years ago. Even when I have spent hundreds of dawns in the field in areas with U. dumetaria, I have been able to record it only twice, in distant places (in La Rioja and in Salta provinces, both in Argentina). That it has not been recorded in Patagonia or in Peru within the known range of U. dumetaria does not provide evidence of the existence of a different species, but rather the need of more sampling in those areas.


“’4) No mostrar su repertorio vocal variación clinal en su distribución reproductiva Norte- Sur a lo largo de 1.000 kilómetros;’ --- It is not clear what clinality would mean in this context, and there are no specific tests assessing clinality in any aspect of the vocalizations of C. fuscus or the new taxon. There is also no clear break in vocalizations among the supposedly separate species.


“’5) Su reproducción exclusiva en bosques de lenga (Nothofagus pumilio) con morfotipo arbóreo;’ --- How has this been assessed? Given that the birds cannot be confidently identified by plumage, genetics or vocalizations (and that some vocalizations were recorded at a single locality), it is difficult to understand how its breeding habitat can be definitely characterized.


“’6) Reproducción inexistente en lengales con morfotipo rastrero y/o achaparrado;’ --- If it only breeds in lenga woodland, then obviously it will not breed in other habitats. Pseudoreplicates point 5.


“’7) Su ausencia en reproducción en otros tipos de bosques andino patagónicos (cipresales, coihueras, ñirentales, etc.); --- If it only breeds in lenga woodland, then obviously it will not breed in other habitats. Pseudoreplicates point 5.


“’8) Su anidación exclusiva en oquedades de lenga con morfotipo arbóreo en estrato medio y alto;’ --- Pseudoreplication of point 5, here now adding that nests in holes in lenga. Because all Cinclodes and Upucerthia are "cavity" nesters, nesting in lenga would be equivalent to nesting in a hole in lenga trees.


“’9) La ausencia en reproducción de ambas Cinclodes en áreas de ecotono entre el bosque y la estepa patagónica;’ --- See points 11 and 12.


“’10) El anacronismo reproductivo en el Norte de su distribución con la Remolinera Común (Cinclodes fuscus);’ --- Assuming that reproduction was not synchronic across the wide latitudinal distribution of C. fuscus (something that has not been shown quantitatively, but that is reasonable to speculate on), it does not automatically follows that asynchrony is absolute (i.e., without temporal overlap). and we lack information on breeding seasonality across thousands of kilometers. Thus, presumed asynchrony is not well characterized across space by the author, making this argument weak. Moreover, how asynchrony in the North and synchrony in the South (see point 11) play in species limits would need to be clarified, as it seems difficult to hold that these opposing patterns can both be used to justify that we are in the presence of two species.


“’11) Su sincronismo reproductivo en el Sur de su distribución con C. fuscus pero en ambientes diferenciados (comunidades clímax de lengal con morfotipo arbóreo versus estepa)’; --- There is no assessment of the aptitude of intervening habitats to hold breeding territories. Alternative explanations include 1) breeding of a single species in different habitats depending on nesting sites, and 2) lack of suitable breeding sites in intermediate places. None has been tested by the author in the publication.


“’12) Reproducción excluyente en una misma área de reproducción (parapatría sin intergradación en el uso de hábitat);’ --- This is just a spatial qualification of point 11. There is nothing inherently different here.


“’13) La imposibilidad de ser tratada como una subespecie de C. fuscus por compartir su reproducción en el Sur de su distribución en la misma área de ocurrencia;’ --- This is imprecise and terms such as "misma área de ocurrencia" can be interpreted to mean whatever the reader wants. It also can be understood to pseudoreplicate points 11 and 12.


“’14) Su migración anual altitudinal entre el bosque de lenga y valles interandinos;’ --- This migration has not been shown by the author. How can one assess the seasonality of a new species that cannot be diagnosed by morphology, plumage, vocalizations or genetics? It is beyond my capabilities to understand how this could be achievable. Moreover 1) even in the case that this migration occurred, it would not provide evidence of two distinct species (migratory connectivity is all about differences in migratory pathways, partial migration does exist, and both migratory and resident populations have been found in numerous species), and 2) the data upon which this is based is not shown (no tracking, no indisputably correctly identified specimens or recordings to describe this pattern), resulting in mere speculation.


“’15) La utilización de rutas de migración dentro del bosque Andino- Patagónico por pasos andinos entre Argentina y Chile;’ --- This is a pseudoreplication of point 14, and has the same problems.


“’16) Tratarse de un caso de especie gemela por especiación ecológica, con patrones de comportamiento vocal/reproductivo, desplazamientos altitudinales, migración, reproducción y uso de hábitat únicos (exclusivos de lengal), pero no diferenciada de C. fuscus por coloración aparente, morfometría y análisis molecular; y --- This is not a new point, but just a mere enumeration of presumed differences and similarities. Note that molecular analyses are invoked here; however, no analytical methods as to how DNA was extracted, sequenced or compared have been supplied, the origin of samples remains unknown, and even in the case that all these were reported, the exiguous genetic differences are said not to be useful to distinguish these taxa. Good species can possess meager genetic differences; however, it is difficult to make the case that having little genetic differentiation is evidence of the presence of two species: in recently diverged good species, there are other criteria by which species can be unambiguously diagnosed. This is not the case with the new Cinclodes.


“’17) Ser análogo su patrón de distribución y migración (al menos en parte) con la Bandurrita de Bosque (Upucerthia saturatior), sumándose a otra especie Andino-Patagónica con un taxón asociado a estepa (U. dumetaria)’ --- U. saturatior and U. dumetaria are not sister species, and even if they were, they differ dramatically in vocalizations, they are narrowly parapatric and they ignore each other’s vocalizations. Invoking these species as evidence in favor of recognizing the new Cinclodes taxon is logically flawed.


“3) Lack of diagnosis. There is no attempt to provide a "diagnostic" diagnosis, and there is not even a description of the type specimen (yet, there are measurements), since the author considers that it is "redundant" with the description of C. fuscus. Geographic variation in plumage and size of the presumed new taxon or C. fuscus are not analyzed. The repertoire is said to be "extremely similar" although "some vocalizations have distinctive features in the distribution of frequencies in their notes". Notwithstanding, my examination of spectrograms fails to distinguish signal from noise (i.e., mere variation from consistent differences), and the differences are not clear at all. Quantitative features are haphazardly reported and no methods are described for the obtention of such measurements, whose ability to diagnose any vocal type remains obscure.


“4) Final remarks. Some people (e.g., at BirdForum) have wondered whether it is worth dedicating attention to this self-published work. I believe it is the duty of science to critically assess every case. Although it may seem a loss of time to criticize work that is considered obviously poorly done and well below current day standards, what is obvious and what is not can change through time, from person to person, and from place to place. This work rampantly clashes with all current species concepts, its claims exceed those possible with the data at hand, and it stretches the limits of interpretation by asking that birds that cannot be confidently identified by any means should be considered as belonging to two different species. Finally, it provides assertions on the natural history, ecology and distribution of a species of doubtful diagnosability without providing the information for these statements. When analyzed in conjunction, the data presented by López-Lanús provides support for the existence of a single species, Cinclodes fuscus, that breeds along a broad latitudinal belt in different habitats. I find other explanations unlikely and incompatible with current knowledge on the vocalizations, plumage and natural history of Cinclodes and Upucerthia.”


Comments from Stiles: “A resounding NO, especially given Nacho's detailed dissection of the "evidence" presented for this split.”


Comments from Bonaccorso: “NO. For all the reasons that both Niels and Nacho present, especially the ones related to the lack of rigor and detailed methods in the description.


Comments from Jaramillo: NO – There is no cogent argument that can be followed in this paper I am afraid. So similar they are hardly different is what I get from it. In my personal experience, I have found that C. fuscus has a variable song that seems to differ depending on excitement level. One recording I have is a long, nonstop but clearly recognizable version as opposed to single song bouts which are the more typical situation. I have heard and seen C. fuscus in forest areas (Torres del Paine) in the very same days as seeing and hearing them in steppe areas (Torres del Paine), and for the life of me there is nothing that I can say differs between these two situations. The Thorn-tailed Rayadito will sometimes nest in a tree cavity, sometimes in an earthen bank, maybe it deems further study? Maybe not.”


Comments from Claramunt: “NO. Not a hint of evidence of a new species here. The proposal came too early, in my opinion, as we don’t know if the work has been published yet and the distribution of the pdf did not make the name available, as Nacho correctly points out. In any case, once available, Cinclodes lopezlanusorum will become a junior synonym of C. fuscus.”


Comments from Zimmer: “NO, for all of the reasons stated in the proposal [“these two putative species are so sibling that they cannot be told apart genetically, vocally or morphologically”  -- pretty much sums up the problem!].  As stated by Niels, and, as I am on record as saying with respect to Cinclodes pabsti, vocalizations of Cinclodes tend to vary considerably between individuals of the same taxon, and even vary considerably within a single individual from one song to the next, particularly dependent on whether or not the individual has been subjected to audio playback.  Any vocal analysis is only as good as the selection of vocal characters that underpin it, and if the choices made by the author(s) fail to distinguish between homologs/analogs and contextually different vocalizations, or, if they confuse individual (intra-taxon) variation with inter-taxon differences, and/or under sample, then the results of the “analysis” aren’t going to mean much.  With respect to the interpretation of alleged vocal differences in this paper, the flaws are fatal, as, it would seem, are many of the other assumptions of ecological distinctions upon which this shaky case is based.”


Comments from Robbins: “NO, for the many reasons that have already been pointed out.”


Comments from Pacheco: “NO. Niels and Nacho's arguments are robust in the sense of demonstrating the multiple and insurmountable inconsistencies in the analysis and description of this (alleged new) taxon.”