Super-rare Amsterdam Albatross a new species

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by DaleForbes on March 21, 2011 · 0 comments

in Birding News

The Amsterdam (Island) Albatross Diomedea amsterdamensis was first described in 1983 – breeding on only one Indian Ocean island, Amsterdam Island – and its identity and taxonomic relationships have been hotly disputed since. Evidently, it was widely thought to be a subspecies of Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans, and interestingly breeds in a characteristic dark plumage, unlike the snowy breeding plumage of its closest great albatross relatives.

According to Birdlife International / IUCN Red List, the entire world population of the Amsterdam Albatross is just 130 individuals, 80 of which are of breeding age.

Species status for the Amsterdam Albatross has, in the past, been based on plumage and morphological features, but has failed to gain wide recognition. Now, an article published in the Journal of Avian Biology presents clear genetic evidence that the Amsterdam Albatross deserves to be treated as a full species:

Wandering albatrosses have been subjected to numerous taxonomic revisions due to discoveries of new species, analyses of morphological data and, more recently, the inclusion of genetic data. The small population of albatrosses (170 individuals including 26 pairs breeding annually) on Amsterdam Island in the Indian Ocean, Diomedea amsterdamensis, has been given species status based on plumage and morphometrics, but genetic data published to date provide weak support and its specific status remains controversial for some authors. We used mitochondrial control region sequence data to elucidate the relationship of the Amsterdam albatross within the wandering albatross complex (Diomedea amsterdamensis, D. antipodensis, D. dabbenena and D. exulans). Three novel haplotypes were present in 35 individuals from Amsterdam Island, and were highly divergent (3.6–7.3%) from haplotypes found in the other three members of the wandering albatross complex. Low levels of genetic variation in Amsterdam albatross likely resulted, at least in part, from a population bottleneck. Geographic isolation in the wandering albatross complex is maintained by high natal philopatry. As Amsterdam Island is the only breeding ground for this critically endangered species, we strongly urge conservation efforts in the area, especially in relation to long line fisheries and other threats such as disease and introduced predators, and it be listed as a distinct species.

Abstract from: Rains D, H Weimerskirch, & TM Burg. 2011. Piecing together the global population puzzle of wandering albatrosses: genetic analysis of the Amsterdam albatross Diomedea amsterdamensis. Journal of Avian Biology 42(1): 69–79

See a related BBC Wildlife Earth News article here.

Update:  The full pdf can be downloaded here.

Amsterdam Albatross photo above:  creative commons by StormPetrel1 on flickr

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