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Putting petrels in their place and the possibly weird evolution of albatrosses (petrels part IV)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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After a number of unplanned distractions (involving the story behind the Archaeopteryx forgery claim, the time-honoured tradition that is April 1st, feathered tyrannosaurs, horned dinosaurs, chickens, ‘Cadborosaurus’, Eld’s deer, and intraguild predation in, and the phylogeny of, raptors), it’s time to get back on track and carry on looking at tubenose seabirds, and petrels in particular. If you need a refresher on where we got to, the previous articles are here (part I), here (part II) and here (part III).

Is an albatross (like the Wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) shown in the middle) more like a petrel (like the Great shearwater (Puffinus gravis) shown at left) or like a storm-petrel (like the Wilson's storm-petrel (Oceanites oceanicus) shown on the right)? Images by Patrick Coin (l and r) and JJ Harrison (centre), licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license and Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Petrels (by which I mean ‘true petrels’) have conventionally been regarded as a ‘family’ (termed Procellariidae) within the ‘order’ Procellariiformes (popularly termed tubenoses). But petrels aren’t the only tubenose ‘family’. Before moving on to look at petrel phylogeny and diversity in full, glorious detail, my plan here is to look at the position of petrels within tubenose phylogeny as a whole. How are petrels related to other tubenoses? And, if we know that, what might it tell us about tubenose evolution as a whole?

The ‘four families’ system breaks down

Shy albatross (Thalassarche cauta), 'super petrel' or something else entirely? Those interested in the soft-tissue reconstruction of fossil archosaurs will already be enamored with the cheek anatomy of this (and a few other) albatross species. Photo by JJ Harrison, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

I grew up with the idea that petrels were especially closely related to the largest, most spectacular and most famous of tubenosed seabirds, the albatrosses. In fact my impression as a rather younger person was that albatrosses were ‘super petrels’, a notion mostly based on Sibley & Ahlquist’s (1990) contention that the two groups were closely related ‘subfamilies’ that only diverged about seven million years ago. Today it seems that albatrosses are not especially close to petrels proper, and indeed views on the phylogeny of tubenoses as a whole don’t support the ‘family-level’ classification used in most 20th century texts, partly because storm-petrels (hydrobatids) seem non-monophyletic (Nunn & Stanley 1998, Kennedy & Page 2002, Hackett et al. 2008).

Interested in testing correlations between body size and rates of molecular evolution, Nunn & Stanley (1998) produced what I think was the first large-scale molecular analysis of tubenoses. As just mentioned, storm-petrels were not recovered as monophyletic, with hydrobatines (one of two storm-petrel clades) being closer to the remaining lineages than was the other storm-petrel clade. The next major divergence involved albatrosses and a diving-petrel + true petrel clade. Kennedy & Page (2002) showed via a supertree approach that studies as of that time generally supported the following topology: (hydrobatine storm-petrels + (albatrosses + (oceanitine storm-petrels + true petrels))). Diving-petrels were deeply nested within true petrels. Seeing as diving-petrels were generally regarded then as a ‘family’ (Pelecanoididae), finding them nested within ‘family’ Procellariidae (true petrels) made Procellariidae non-monophyletic as well.

Images by (l to r) Bryan Harry, Sannab, Patrick Coin, Júlio Reis and James Lloyd; images licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license, and Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Penhallurick & Wink (2004) used mitochondrial cytochrome b sequence data to look both at higher-level relationships among tubenoses, and to assess the classification of taxa at the genus, species and subspecies level. Again, storm-petrels were recovered as non-monophyletic, but albatrosses now grouped with the two storm-petrel clades, being closer to hydrobatines in their favoured tree. Shock horror. Prions, diving-petrels and true petrels formed the sister-group to the storm-petrel + albatross clade, though the position of prions (conventionally included within true petrels) was fairly labile (Penhallurick & Wink 2004). In their favoured phylogeny, diving-petrels were nested within true petrels, being especially close to gadfly petrels. Ericson et al. (2006) found albatrosses to be outside a (storm-petrel + (petrel + diving-petrel)) clade.

Click to enlarge. Attributions as above but prion image by Rosemary Tully, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Livezey & Zusi (2007) didn’t include many taxa in their famously large analysis, and – in contrast to most other recent studies – found true petrels and albatrosses to be sister-groups, with prions, the storm-petrel Oceanites and diving-petrels to be successively more distant to this clade. It has been argued that at least some of the character codings used by Livezey & Zusi (2007) are inaccurate, with taxa being coded for characters that they ‘should’ have, rather than what they do have (Mayr 2008). Furthermore, some of the relationships they recovered (e.g., a loon-grebe clade) are worryingly ‘traditional’.

Finally (for now), Hackett et al. (2008) found the oceanitine storm-petrel Oceanites to be outside a tubenose clade that includes albatrosses, hydrobatine storm-petrels, diving-petrels and true petrels.

Tubenose phylogeny recovered by Hackett et al. (2008). Image attribution as above.

Some implications, and what do the fossils say?

What ‘consensus’ emerges from these studies, and what does it actually mean that’s actually, you know, interesting? For starters, the tidy, apparently traditional view that Procellariiformes consists of (1) Hydrobatidae (storm-petrels), (2) Pelecanoididae (diving-petrels), (3) Procellariidae (true petrels) and (4) Diomedeidae (albatrosses) does not accurately reflect phylogeny.

Firstly, ‘Hydrobatidae’ consists of two distinct clades and is not a natural group. Secondly, while diving-petrels remain monophyletic, their classification as a ‘family’ will now confuse many given that they might be nested within true petrels. As noted above, Penhallurick & Wink (2004) advocated the view that diving-petrels are within a true petrel clade that also includes gadfly petrels, and they thus treated diving-petrels as a ‘tribal-level’ clade (termed Pelecanoidini) within a ‘subfamily-level’ clade (termed Pelecanoidinae) within ‘family’ Procellariidae.

Tubenose phylogeny from Penhallurick & Wink (2004), with clades labelled. I don't expect for a moment that you'll be able to read much of the text here, but you should be ale to see that they classified all crown-tubenoses as either within Diomedeidae, or within Procellariidae. Actually, in the tree shown here, prions are incertae sedis, but they were recovered as part of Procellariidae in other trees.

Penhallurick & Wink’s (2004) phylogeny – while not exactly a ‘last word’ on the subject – would actually make the big picture of crown-tubenose phylogeny simpler than has been conventional. This is because members of the tubenose crown-group are, in their phylogeny, either members of the albatross lineage, or members of the true petrel lineage: Penhallurick & Wink’s (2004) therefore proposed that both kinds of storm-petrel should be included within Diomedeidae alongside albatrosses (which then become the ‘subfamily-level’ clade Diomedeinae); the true petrel lineage (including diving-petrels) would obviously be termed Procellariidae.

Anyway, whichever phylogenetic hypothesis we follow, it does seem generally agreed that albatrosses are not at all close to true petrels. In fact, the relatively enormous, hyper-long-winged, soaring, often mostly white albatrosses perhaps evolved from a small, dark, storm-petrel-like ancestor given that albatrosses are nested within storm-petrels according to Penhallurick & Wink (2004), and surrounded by them according to Kennedy & Page (2002) and Hackett et al. (2008).

Are there any fossils that might shed light on the ancestral conditions of albatrosses and other crown-tubenoses? Most fossil tubenoses aren’t all that different from living ones. There are, however, a few peculiar specimens, among them the comparatively tiny albatross Murunkus subitus from the Eocene of Uzbekistan, known only from its carpometacarpus. This is seemingly from a bird about a third smaller than the smallest living albatross; so, with a wingspan of perhaps 60 cm or so. However, it’s an ‘alleged’ albatross and its identification as a member of the group awaits confirmation (Mayr & Smith 2012). Other fossil albatrosses (the oldest definite record, Tydea septentrionalis, is from the Oligocene of Belgium) are much like living ones in form, size, and probably in ecology and behaviour.

Foot skeletons of the Oligocene diomedeoidid tubenose Diomedeoides brodkorbi, from Mayr (2009b). The relatively broad, but long, toe bones and their 'closely packed' appearance is obvious, as is the blunt form of the claws. The tiny hallux is a key tubenose character.

Members of an entirely extinct tubenose group are known from the Oligocene of Europe and Iran. These are the diomedeoidids. Yeah, I know, that name is horrible – too many vowels, and too similar to Diomedeidae. Anyway, based on the small size of the dorsal supracondylar process on the distal end of the humerus and other characters, it’s been inferred that diomedeoidids are outside the crown-tubenose clade (Mayr 2009a, De Pietri et al. 2010). The suggestion that this group might be stem-tubenoses explains why I’ve sometimes made a distinction in this article between Procellariiformes as generally understood, and crown-Procellariiformes. Mayr (2009a, b) suggested, on the basis of that small supracondylar process and perhaps other features, that diomedeoidids may have been flap-gliders like oceanitine storm-petrels, and not gliders or soarers. Their very long legs recall those of oceanitines, and their peculiar wide, flattened toes (with blunt, nail-like claws) do too.

Wilson's storm-petrel (Oceanites oceanicus), practicing surface-pattering. Image by Patrick Coin, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

I can’t pretend that we really know all that much about diomedeoidid ecology, functional morphology or behaviour. But there are indications that these possible stem-tubenoses were storm-petrel-like ‘surface patterers’, repeatedly braking to pick up prey from the sea surface, and not soaring swiftly and efficiently on stiff wings like large petrels or albatrosses. [Adjacent image of 'surface patterning' storm-petrel by Patrick Coin].  And if this is correct, and if albatrosses evolved their stiff-winged, high-aspect-ratio soaring wings from storm-petrel-like ancestors (as indicated by some of the phylogenetic results discussed above), then any ecological, behavioural and morphological similarities shared by albatrosses and true petrels must represent convergences. When you look at the general similarity between, say, giant petrels (Macronectes) and albatrosses, that seems pretty surprising.

Much as I’d like to discuss other aspects of tubenose evolution and historical biology, I need to finish this article by briefly discussing the phylogenetic structure of true petrels (Procellariidae), since that’s where we going next.

A phylogeny for petrels

Fulmarus glacialis, a member of Fulmarini. Image by T. Müller, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Recent molecular phylogenetic studies indicate that true petrels (Procellariidae) consist of four major clades: Pterodromini (gadfly-petrels), Procellarinii, Fulmarini (fulmars, giant petrels and kin) and Puffinini (shearwaters). The majority of analyses have found Procellarinii and Puffinini to be sister-taxa, with Fulmarini and Pterodromini representing successively more distant clades to this pairing (Bretagnolle et al. 1998, Nunn & Stanley 1998, Kennedy & Page 2002, Penhallurick & Wink 2004).

The situation is somewhat complicated by the fact, discussed above, that diving-petrels – traditionally classified within their own ‘family’ (Pelecanoididae) – form the sister-taxon to pterodromines in some studies. If this phylogeny is followed, it might be appropriate to split Procellariidae into Procellariinae (for Procellarinii, Fulmarini and Puffinini) and Pelecanoidinae (for Pterodromini and the diving-petrels). Furthermore, prions – conventionally regarded as part of Procellarinii – were found to be outside of the diving-petrel + true petrel clade in some of the topologies recovered by Penhallurick & Wink (2004).

The positions of some species are fairly labile in analyses. Consequently, while the existence of those four major clades (Pterodromini, Procellarinii, Fulmarini and Puffinini) is generally agreed upon (Bretagnolle et al. 1998, Nunn & Stanley 1998, Kennedy & Page 2002, Penhallurick & Wink 2004), their membership varies between analyses. When we visit petrels again, we’ll be looking at pterodromines.

For previous Tet Zoo articles on petrels and other tubenosed seabirds, see…

And for articles about other kinds of seabirds, see…

Refs – -

Bretagnolle, V., Attié, C., Pasquet, E. 1998. Cytochrome-B evidence for validity and phylogenetic relationships of Pseudobulweria and Bulweria (Procellariidae). Auk 115, 188-195.

De Pietri, V. L., Berger, J.−P., Pirkenseer, C., Scherler, L. & Mayr, G. 2010. New skeleton from the early Oligocene ofGermany indicates a stem−group position of diomedeoidid birds. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 55, 23–34.

Ericson, P. G. P., Anderson, C. L., Britton, T., Elzanowski, A., Johansson, U. S., Källersjö, M., Ohlson, J. I., Parsons, T. J., Zuccon, D. & Mayr, G. 2006. Diversification of Neoaves: integration of molecular sequence data and fossils. Biology Letters 2, 543-547

Hackett, S., Kimball, R., Reddy, S., Bowie, R., Braun, E., Braun, M., Chojnowski, J., Cox, W., Han, K., Harshman, J., Huddleston, C., Marks, B., Miglia, K., Moore, W., Sheldon, F., Steadman, D., Witt, C., & Yuri, T. (2008). A Phylogenomic Study of Birds Reveals Their Evolutionary History Science, 320 (5884), 1763-1768 DOI: 10.1126/science.1157704

Kennedy, M. & Page R. D. M. 2002. Seabird supertrees: combining partial estimates of procellariform phylogeny. Auk 119, 88-108.

Livezey, B. C. & Zusi, R. L. 2007. Higher-order phylogeny of modern birds (Theropoda, Aves: Neornithes) based on comparative anatomy. II. Analysis and discussion. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 149, 1-95.

Mayr, G. 2008. Avian higher- level phylogeny: well-supported clades and what we can learn from a phylogenetic analysis of 2954 morphological characters. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 46, 63-72.

- . 2009a. Paleogene Fossil Birds. Springer, Berlin.

- . 2009b. Notes on the osteology and phylogenetic affinitiesof the Oligocene Diomedeoididae (Aves, Procellariiformes). Fossil Record 12, 133–140.

- ., & Smith, T. 2012. A fossil albatross from the Early Oligocene of the North Sea Basin. The Auk 129, 87-95.

Nunn, G. B. & Stanley, S. E. 1998. Body size effects and rates of cytochrome b evolution in tube-nosed seabirds. Molecular Biology and Evolution 15, 1360-1371.

Penhallurick, J. & Wink, M. 2004. Analysis of the taxonomy and nomenclature of the Procellariiformes based on complete nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene. Emu 104, 125-147.

Sibley, C. G. & Ahlquist, J. A. 1990. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Dartian 2:01 am 04/30/2012

    in the tree shown here, prions are incertae sedis, but they were recovered as part of Procellariidae in other trees

    Hm. Aren’t Penhallurick & Wink mis-using the term incertae sedis there? It means ‘of uncertain placement’, but in that tree that they’ve published there’s nothing uncertain about the prions’ placement at all; they are the sister clade of Procellariinae + Pelecanoidinae. In the context of a phylogenetic tree, incertae sedis should only be used when referring to clades of unresolved position (that is, polytomies), should it not?

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  2. 2. Christopher Taylor 3:47 am 04/30/2012

    Seeing as “incertae sedis” is usually used in relation to a formal classification, they’re probably referring to not placing the prions in a formally named family. Without having seen the original paper, it’s possible that they refrained from formal placement because they did not feel the position for prions in the tree was robustly enough supported.

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  3. 3. naishd 4:19 am 04/30/2012

    Yes, Chris is right. In some of Penhallurick & Wink’s (2004) topologies, prions were recovered as within Procellariidae, yet not within any of the named lineages. In those instances, Penhallurick & Wink (2004) referred to prions as “incertae sedis within the Procellariidae” (p. 142).

    I published this article by accident – was surprised to see it out there already when I first logged on this morning. Anyway, I think it turned out alright.


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  4. 4. David Marjanović 8:43 am 04/30/2012

    Livezey & Zusi (2007) didn’t include many taxa in their famously large analysis

    In particular, they included almost no fossils. *howl*

    BTW, close to 500 of their characters were parsimony-uninformative. It makes no sense to claim, as Mayr (2008) does in the title of his paper, that it’s “a phylogenetic analysis of 2954 morphological characters”.

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  5. 5. zarmstrong 12:35 pm 04/30/2012

    Hi Darren,

    Are there any papers that you can refer me to dealing with the soft-tissue anatomy of the “cheeks” of albatrosses such as Thalassarche cauta?

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  6. 6. naishd 12:40 pm 04/30/2012

    David (comment 4): so, should we be referring to Livezey & Zusi as “a phylogenetic analysis of c. 2454 morphological characters”?

    Zach (comment 5): I’m not 100% sure, but I’m reasonably sure that there is no useful literature whatsoever on albatross cheek anatomy, as is tradition when it comes to weird anatomy. I’d be very happy to be shown wrong.


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  7. 7. David Marjanović 4:09 pm 04/30/2012

    David (comment 4): so, should we be referring to Livezey & Zusi as “a phylogenetic analysis of c. 2454 morphological characters”?

    Well, yes. The other ~ 500 characters just sit there and don’t do anything.

    (They artificially increase the Consistency Index and the like, but PAUP* always gives the indices with and without uninformative characters, so – unless a paper reports the wrong ones – that’s not a problem.)

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  8. 8. Halbred 4:41 pm 04/30/2012

    It strikes me that the shearwater at the top is named Puffinus whereas actual puffins (auks) are named Fratercula. Wierd.

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  9. 9. John Harshman 4:49 pm 04/30/2012

    I have come to favor the idea of using “Pan-” for total groups and saving the more traditional names for crown groups. So Dromeidoididae (urk) would be a non-procellariiform but a fine pan-procellariiform. If they’re correctly placed as you suggest, that is.


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  10. 10. naishd 6:03 pm 04/30/2012

    Halbred (comment 9): yes, Bison bison is the Bison, Gorilla gorilla is the Gorilla (or, a gorilla, anyway) and so on, but Puffinus puffinus ain’t the puffin. Those of you who have seen Stephen Fry’s BBC TV series QI might recognise the segment I’m paraphrasing.

    On puffins, their name – Fratercula – means ‘little brother’, apparently a reference to the idea that puffins were once likened to miniature monks. Yeah, monks. So – why F. arctica, F. cirrhata and so on… the specific names are feminine. Well, the word ‘Fratercula’ is feminine, apparently.


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  11. 11. naishd 6:47 pm 04/30/2012

    I really hated the Pan- prefix proposal when I first heard about it, in part because I imagined an absurd profusion of formal ‘Panxxx’-style names. But now I agree with John (comment 9), in that I see it as a useful bit of notation. So, yes, in this case we have procellariiforms (or crown-procellariiforms) vs pan-procellariiforms.


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  12. 12. John Harshman 8:31 pm 04/30/2012

    Anyway, how weird it it that the bird in genus Pinguinis isn’t a penguin? Ah well, at least it was a flightless seabird.

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  13. 13. John Harshman 8:31 pm 04/30/2012


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  14. 14. Andreas Johansson 2:58 am 05/1/2012

    Well, the word ‘Fratercula’ is feminine, apparently.

    Yes, but the normal word for “little brother” is masc. fraterculus, so why the generic name was made feminine is still a good question.

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  15. 15. naishd 4:45 am 05/1/2012

    “Anyway, how weird it it that the bird in genus Pinguinis isn’t a penguin?” (comment 12)

    Is it weird? The great auk was called a penguin before the members of Sphenisciformes were – it was the ‘original penguin’, and use of ‘penguin’ for the Great auk (also called the Garefowl or Geirfugl) dates back to 1578 at least (Funk Island off Newfoundland was referred to as Penguin Island at that time). So, Europeans who saw members of sphenisciforms naturally gave them the same name. The origins of ‘penguin’ are unsure. Some say it has Welsh origins (starting out as ‘pen gwyn’), and meant ‘white head’, and others than it comes from the Latin ‘pinguis’.


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  16. 16. David Marjanović 6:52 am 05/1/2012

    Well, the word ‘Fratercula’ is feminine, apparently.

    It is.

    I have no idea what’s going on there. Perhaps it’s meant to agree with the feminine word avis… ~:-|

    Latin ‘pinguis’

    meaning “fat”.

    In French, pingouin still means Pinguinus, and “penguin” is manchot. Armand de Ricqlès mocks you all for this.

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  17. 17. Jerzy v. 3.0. 6:26 am 05/2/2012

    Hola, Jerzy here.

    What about the curious case of a zombie albatross?

    This is one example I wanted to point you earlier but had no time. Short-tailed albatross shows high genetic diversity and two populations (on Torishima and Minami-kojima) are different as much as other species. The problem is – it was reduced to max several tens of indviduals in early 20 century and Minami-kojima population was actually wiped out. And albatross is not that difficult to overlook.


    Now you see why I don’t believe molecular phylogeny studies, especially about tubenose speciation, too much.

    And a question – what sort of error can produce such effect (besides overlooking hundreds of large birds)? Maybe there is something with extremely long life of tubenoses – they can breed with their great-great-great-grandchild, breaking down a concept of generation length? Or with mate choice or small population size – other statistic assumptions don’t hold?

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  18. 18. naishd 7:09 am 05/2/2012

    Hola Jerzy v.3.0 (my god, how many of you are there?).

    Firstly, high haplotype diversity is often reported in species that have, or previously had, wide distributions. Though only breeding today in the north-west Pacific, the Short-tailed albatross is known from fossil data to have previously nested in the North Atlantic (Bermuda), so you might predict a genetic history consistent with rapid population growth and the later loss of some or much of that diversity. Indeed, this is exactly what has been reported in other albatross species (Young 2009): the Short-tailed albatross is not special in this regard. Anyway, you do know that haplotype diversity is not the same as overall genetic diversity?

    Secondly, the Eda et al. (2012) study you linked to showed via work on archaeological samples of Short-tailed albatrosses that the two modern, genetically distinct populations (Senkaku Islands vs Japan) represent extant relicts of long-distinct forms. The Senkaku population was seemingly overlooked when this species was being exploited toward extinction. You assume above that these birds must all represent the ‘same species’, but it may now be that this is not correct and that there is a case for recognising the Senkaku population as a cryptic species.

    Ref – -

    Eda, M., Koike, H., Kuro-o, M., Mihara, S., Hasegawa, H. & Higuchi, H. 2012. Inferring the ancient population structure of the vulnerable albatross Phoebastria albatrus, combining ancient DNA, stable isotope, and morphometric analyses of archaeological samples. Conservation Genetics 13, 143-151.

    Young, L. C. 2010. Inferring colonization history and dispersal patterns of a long-lived seabird by combining genetic and empirical data. Journal of Zoology 281, 232–240.

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  19. 19. BrianL 10:45 am 05/2/2012

    I’m not much of an expert concerning petrels or even procellariiforms in general, so the following questions may display some of my unintentional ignorance:

    Are the extreme dietary habits of giant petrels singular among their extant kin or are they merely at the end of a still-existing continuum?

    Also, are giant petrels known from fossils to have also occured in the northern hemisphere, just like albatrosses used to breed in the northern Atlantic?

    And last but not least, for the sake of awesomeness: Do giant petrels ever interact at feeding sites with large birds of prey, such as vultures, condors or eagles? If so, how do they fare competing against them?

    It’d be great if someone could shed shome light on these questions.

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  20. 20. naishd 10:50 am 05/2/2012

    Those are great questions, but they’ll all be (mostly) dealt with in the article on members of Fulmarini – written but not yet published. Up to readers if they want to wait until then, or post now, I don’t mind. Let’s face it, I might not actually publish the Fulmarini article for weeks or months.


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  21. 21. Jerzy v. 3.0. 9:54 am 05/4/2012

    No, I think Ockham razor makes it more likely that models of genetic diversity are sometimes wrong (or are wrongly applied) than tubenoses show a number of suprising features: overlooking large number of highly visible birds, no mixing of populations between nesting sites for millenia although we have direct observations that this happens… etc.

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  22. 22. Jerzy v. 3.0. 10:08 am 05/4/2012

    Andean Condors occur in Patagonia eg. Terra del Fuego down to sea level so theoretically can come into contact with giant petrels.

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  23. 23. Neil K. 5:10 pm 05/4/2012

    Don’t forget Pelecanoides which is not only not a pelican but almost entirely unlike a pelican (at least outwardly) so far as I can tell.

    Since Bonnaterre coined “Pinguinis” and (as David already noted) pingouin is what French call auks, the genus name does make some sense. But according to the Oxford English Dictionary the earliest occurrence of “Pingwin” in English (1577 in Fletcher’s Log of ‘Golden Hind’) actually refers to Spheniscids, though it is attributed to Welsh sailors who presumably were applying their name for Pinguinis to the remarkably similar-looking birds of the Southern Hemisphere.

    OED also supposes that “Penguin Island” might not be be named after the bird but vice versa. One plausible meaning of peng wyn is “white head(lands)” i.e. “guano-stained rocks” and the auks (whose heads were not especially white) took their name after their preferred roosting spots.

    Anyway it seems that as soon as “penguin” came into wide use in English it was already being used for flightless black and white birds in both hemispheres.

    “Albatross” has a similarly twisted history.
    There seems to be something about seabirds and tortuous etymologies, chalk it up to the fertile linguistic soup of the seafaring world I suppose.

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  24. 24. Dartian 2:15 am 05/5/2012

    Don’t forget Pelecanoides which is not only not a pelican but almost entirely unlike a pelican (at least outwardly) so far as I can tell.

    There is also a storm-petrel genus called Fregetta – which should not be confused with the frigatebirds (genus Fregata).

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  25. 25. Jerzy v. 3.0. 10:44 am 05/5/2012

    And cormorant = Corvus marinus!

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  26. 26. David Marjanović 3:15 pm 05/5/2012

    Pen gwyn as white cape would be majorly awesome.

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