Micronesian Kingfisher (Todiramphus cinnamominus) is being split: list T. reichenbachii as Vulnerable and T. cinnamominus as Extinct In The Wild?

This is part of a consultation on the Red List implications of extensive changes to BirdLife’s taxonomy for non-passerines

Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International will soon publish the HBW-BirdLife Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, building off the Handbook of the Birds of the World series, and BirdLife’s annually updated taxonomic checklist.

The new Checklist will be based on the application of criteria for recognising species limits described by Tobias et al. (2010). Full details of the specific scores and the basis of these for each new taxonomic revision will be provided in the Checklist.

Following publication, an open and transparent mechanism will be established to allow people to comment on the taxonomic revisions or suggest new ones, and provide new information of relevance in order to inform regular updates. We are also actively seeking input via a discussion topic here regarding some potential taxonomic revisions that currently lack sufficient information.

The new Checklist will form the taxonomic basis of BirdLife’s assessments of the status of the world’s birds for the IUCN Red List. The taxonomic changes that will appear in volume 1 of the checklist (for non-passerines) will begin to be incorporated into the 2014 Red List update, with the remainder, and those for passerines (which will appear in volume 2 of the checklist), to be incorporated into subsequent Red List updates.

Preliminary Red List assessments have been carried out for the newly split or lumped taxa. We are now requesting comments and feedback on these preliminary assessments.

Mirconesian Kingfisher Todiramphus cinnamominus is being split into T. cinnamominus, T. pelewensis and T. reichenbachii, following the application of criteria set out by Tobias et al. (2010).

Prior to this taxonomic change, T. cinnamominus (BirdLife species factsheet) was listed as Least Concern on the basis that it was not thought to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under any of the IUCN criteria. Although this species was estimated to have a restricted range, it was not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence of less than 20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appeared to be decreasing, the decline was not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (at least a 30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size has not been quantified, but it was not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (fewer than 10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be at least 10% over ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure).

T. cinnamominus (as defined following the taxonomic change) is known only from Guam (Fry and Fry 1999, del Hoyo et al. 2001). It is thought to warrant listing as Extinct In The Wild, as what are thought to have been the last 29 birds in the wild were captured for captive breeding in 1986 (del Hoyo et al. 2001, Szabo et al. 2012). The primary driver of its decline was predation by brown tree-snake Boiga irregularis (Fritts and Rodda 1998).

T. reichenbachii is endemic to Pohnpei Island, where it occupies forest and woodland areas, as well as modified and edge habitats (Fry and Fry 1999, del Hoyo et al. 2001). It may qualify as Vulnerable under criterion D2, on the basis that it occurs on one small island, where it appears to be increasing or stable, but is susceptible to the potential introduction of brown tree-snake, which is expected to be catastrophic and would probably result in the species qualifying as Critically Endangered or Extinct within one to two generations.

T. pelewensis is endemic to the islands of the Palau archipelago (Fry and Fry 1999, del Hoyo et al. 2001) and is likely to warrant listing as Least Concern on the basis that it is not thought to meet the thresholds for Vulnerable under any of the IUCN criteria. The species is characterised as quite common (Fry and Fry 1999, del Hoyo et al. 2001), with apparently no evidence of declines. It is unclear whether there are any plausible threats that could drive the species to qualify as threatened within one or two generations. The accidental introduction of alien predators such as brown tree-snake remains a potential threat, but the species’s wide distribution in the archipelago would appear to limit the likely impacts of such an event.

Comments on these suggested categories are invited and further information would be welcomed.

References:

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2001) Handbook of the birds of the world, Vol 6: Mousebirds to Hornbills. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions.

Fritts, T. H. and Rodda, G. H. (1998) The role of introduced species in the degradation of island ecosystems: A Case History of Guam. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 29: 113–140.

Szabo, J. K., Khwaja, N., Garnett, S. T. and Butchart, S. H. M. (2012) Global Patterns and Drivers of Avian Extinctions at the Species and Subspecies Level. PLoS ONE 7(10): e47080. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047080

Tobias, J. A., Seddon, N., Spottiswoode, C. N., Pilgrim, J. D., Fishpool, L. D. C. and Collar, N. J. (2010) Quantitative criteria for species delimitation. Ibis 152: 724–746.

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5 Responses to Micronesian Kingfisher (Todiramphus cinnamominus) is being split: list T. reichenbachii as Vulnerable and T. cinnamominus as Extinct In The Wild?

  1. Peter Shannon says:

    “Extinct in the wild” (EW) species hold a tenuous position in efforts to conserve biological diversity, especially in island ecosystems. Returning species to geographically limited habitats will increasingly require ex-situ propagation programs to sustain species until such time as habitat can be modified or restored to the point of being able to sustain a wild population. The separation of the Guam kingfisher into its own species from the other two Todiramphus cinnamominus species has important implications for captive propagation as a viable recovery tool.

    Without captive propagation, the Guam kingfisher would no longer exist. The designation of EW provides a certain bit of flexibility in how the captive managers propagate and move birds between institutions. For however long it takes for habitat issues to be resolved, there will exist a genetic pool of birds to be drawn from should the time ever come when birds are returned to a wild state. While the three subspecies were grouped together as one, existing laws facilitated efficient management of the species.

    But with the separation of the three sub-species into distinct species, the rules changed. As an EW species, the Guam kingfisher may face an uncertain conservation future. The perception may become that since they no longer exist in a wild state, they are less worthy of restoration resources at a time when those resources are more critical than ever if the species is to be recovered to the wild.

    And then, the moment a Guam kingfisher is returned to the wild, the species’ legal status will likely change again and potentially fall under more restrictive regulations that would hamper effective management of the combined wild and captive flocks.

    Perhaps there needs to be consideration of a new legislative category that both protects the status and funding for EW species programs during recovery efforts while at the same time addressing the challenges of the legislative burdens affecting this unique category of species.

  2. Joe Taylor says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information and comments posted above, our preliminary proposals for the 2014 Red List would be to treat:

    T. cinnamominus as Extinct In The Wild

    T. reichenbachii as Vulnerable under criterion D2

    T. pelewensis as Least Concern

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 31 March, after which recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in mid-2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  3. Peter Buchholz says:

    The newly proposed changes of Todiramphus cinnamominus taxonomy to represent three fully recognized species and their designation that accurately reflexes their current status is welcomed revisions.

    As has been noted T. cinnamominus was originally listed as a species of Least Concern. This past status confused the true population levels of each of the three newly proposed species.

    Having the Guam population of T. cinnamominus designated as “Extinct In The Wild” reflexes the reality of the situation and in my view places greater emphasis on supporting its ex situ population management, but more importantly bringing to the forefront the need to establish secure safe habitat for its timely reintroduction.

    These new designations also will allow each of these species to individually receive the attention they will require to safe guard their wild populations and timely responses if or when the need arises.

  4. There are multiple qualitative as well as quantitative reasons for splitting T. cinnamominus, as outlined by Pratt & Etpison (2008:90. Birds and Bats of Palau. Mutual Publishing, Honolulu). The Palau species (T. pelewensis) should NOT be given the mindless name Palau Kingfisher, because it is broadly sympatric with a form of Collared Kingfisher (T. chloris teraokai), possibly a species in its own right, that is far more conspicuous and is the kingfisher most Palauans know. This name will only lead to confusion. Pratt & Etpison use Rusty-capped Kingfisher, which clearly differentiates this species from the larger kingfisher at Palau.

    Also, the information above implies that this is a common bird. It is not, and the designation as “quite common” is wildly misleading if not outright inaccurate. The larger kingfisher is far more numerous, and seems to dominate the smaller one in most situations. This species is one of the more difficult Palau birds for visitors to see, and BirdLife might want to rethink designating it as Least Concern. There have been recent population surveys, probably yet unpublished.

  5. Andy Symes says:

    Recommended categorisation to be put forward to IUCN

    Based on available information and comments posted above, our recommended categorisations to be put forward to IUCN for the 2014 Red List are:

    T. cinnamominus as Extinct In The Wild

    T. reichenbachii as Vulnerable under criterion D2

    T. pelewensis as Near Threatened, nearly meeting the thresholds for classification as Vulnerable under criteria B1ab(iii); D2 – change to the preliminary proposal

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in mid-2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

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