Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A Plover Split?

A DNA study suggests that Kentish Plovers and Snowy Plovers, currently counted as populations of the same species (Charadrius alexandrinus), are in fact two separate species.
The scientists from the Universities of Bath and Sheffield analysed the DNA of 166 birds from two different American populations of Snowy Plover, four Eurasian populations of Kentish Plover, and one African population of a closely related species, the White-fronted Plover.

They found that the European birds were more similar to their African cousins than to their relatives in America, indicating that the bird population split and colonised America, where they became Snowy Plovers, before splitting again to produce Kentish and White-fronted plovers....

Professor of Molecular Ecology Terence Burke, from the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield, said: "It will hopefully make a huge difference. Usually few people are concerned if a local population of birds vanishes. However, when an entire species is threatened, conservation efforts will be stepped up."

The researchers hope next to map exactly how the Snowy Plovers colonised America.
If this becomes the consensus view, it should lengthen the life list of any birders who has seen both. It gives an extra reason to check those plovers carefully!