A new taxonomy for BirdLife and why it matters for bird conservation

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At the end of 2016, the second and final volume of the landmark Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World by the Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) and BirdLife International was published. This ground-breaking new checklist presents for the first time independent taxonomic revisions for all the bird species of the world, incorporating the most up-to-date information and an exhaustive methodology in an entirely systematic and consistent way. The new taxonomy has been full adopted by BirdLife Cyprus, replacing the now outdated classification system we had been using until recently.

At this point, you may be wondering ‘What is taxonomy and why should we care?’ Taxonomy is the science dealing with the description, identification, naming, and classification of organisms. Taxonomy describes the world’s species and their relationships. Although a checklist of species does nothing to save them on its own, taxonomy goes hand-in-hand with conservation. How can we expect to save species if we cannot identify them, and how can we understand and deal with the consequences of environmental change and habitat degradation, if we cannot recognize and describe the interacting components of natural ecosystems?

As travel to once remote places gets ever easier and as genetics has become established in taxonomy, species are now being “lumped” (when two or more species are merged into one) and “split” (when one species is divided into two or more) at break-neck speed. To deal with and evaluate all this splitting and lumping, BirdLife International established its own criteria for deciding what can be considered to be a species nowadays. These criteria ensure that the bird taxonomy we use is consistent, equitable, intelligible and up-to-date, while the checklist itself has all the characteristics we need to complement our conservation work: flexibility, speed and above all critical independence.

So what does this mean for birdwatchers in Cyprus? You will notice that the order in which species appear in our Monthly Checklist, annual Cyprus Bird Report and other publications has changed to match the HBW/BirdLife International checklist. Some species on the Cyprus list have been split and some have been lumped. The names we use for some species have changed. You can see all the changes and report all your birdwatching records using the new bird recording spreadsheet available from Jane Stylianou, BirdLife Cyprus’ Bird Recorder.

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