Are Short-tailed Albatrosses two cryptic species? New evidence

Short tailed Albatross.Eda 

 "The left pair is the Torishima-type Short-tailed Albatross, while the two on the right are the Senkaku-type Short-tailed Albatross. This is the first case of cryptic species found in an endangered bird species" - from the Endangered Species Research Facebook Page

Masaki Eda (Hokkaido University Museum, Sapporo, Japan) and colleagues have published open access in the journal Endangered Species Research on whether the Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastria albatrus should be two species, with consequent implications for the threatened status of the two cryptic populations.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“The occurrence of cryptic species within a threatened taxon is rare, but where they do occur, understanding species boundaries is essential for planning an effective conservation strategy. The short-tailed albatross Phoebastria albatrus is a Vulnerable seabird that mainly breeds on Torishima and the Senkaku Islands in the western North Pacific. Although it has been tacitly regarded as a single management unit with 2 breeding sites, the species is known to comprise 2 genetically separated populations (Senkaku-type and Torishima-type). However, morphological examination of birds from both populations has not been conducted owing to the difficulty in accessing the Senkaku Islands. In this study, we examined the morphological differences between immigrants from the Senkaku Islands to Torishima (Senkaku-type) and native birds on Torishima (Torishima-type) and found significant differences in morphological characteristics between the 2 bird types. In general, Torishima-type birds were larger than Senkaku-type birds, whereas Senkaku-type birds had relatively longer beaks. Based on the morphological differences found in this study as well as genetic and ecological differences revealed in previous studies, we believe that Senkaku- and Torishima-type birds should be classified as different cryptic species. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first case of cryptic species being identified in a threatened avian species.”

Eda paper Short tailed Albatrosses


Eda, M., Yamasaki, T., Izumi, H., Tomita, N., Konno, S.,Konno, M., Murakami, H. & Sato, F. 2020.  Cryptic species in a Vulnerable seabird: short-tailed albatross consists of two species.  Endangered Species Research

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 25 November 2020

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