Pacific Conservation Biology, 2015

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BOOK REVIEW
HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World: Volume 1 Non-passerines
Del Hoyo, J. and Collar, N. J. 2014
Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Pp. 903, 4.28 kg, ISBN 978-84-96553-94-1
Price Euro €185.00 with free shipping worldwide

The accounts in this volume are based on the accounts from the first seven volumes of Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW). This illustrated edition was written by many including the authors of the aforementioned volumes. It was edited by Josep del Hoyo the Senior Editor of HBW (del Hoyo et al. 1992–2013) and Nigel J. Collar a Leventis Fellow in Conservation Biology, BirdLife International. Lynx Edicions published this volume in association with BirdLife International. Essentially the people and organisations best qualified to complete such a complex project. This volume (non-passerines) is the first of two volumes that aims to put all the world’s birds into one checklist. It is a vast and complex project that has drawn heavily from HBW, but has been updated to reflect changing knowledge. This is not the first checklist of the world’s birds, it follows from and builds upon others (e.g. Peters 1934-1987; Sibley and Monroe 1990 and 1993) it is most notably different from these in that it is illustrated in colour.

The volume is structured in checklist fashion: a taxonomic list and introduction precede the checklist with the species accounts; this is followed by three appendices—two covering extinct species and a third an atlas, which helps the readers to interpret the maps. The first two appendices are simply extinct taxa that could and could not be illustrated. The volume is closed with a bibliography and an index. The species accounts occupy over 700 pages and present the bulk and purpose of the volume. This is set-out with illustrations and distribution maps on the right page and the accompanying text on the left as in field guides and handbooks. The text is concise and gives: English and scientific names, a coloured box with the ICUN threat ranking, the corresponding HBW volume and page number, French, German and Spanish names, basic taxonomic notes (includes authority), subspecies and distribution. One striking difference between this and previous checklists is its lengthy 35 page introduction. The editors fully intended to produce a comprehensive introduction with no “lack of modesty”, which is intended to involve, stimulate and make the users part of the process in improving the checklist. General backgrounding is given on the speciation processes and its two most familiar explanations: the biological species concept, reliant on the presence or absence of interbreeding, and the phylogenetic species concept, based on (Cracraft 1983) with the criterion of diagnoseability. After pointing to the merits and weaknesses in these concepts the editors opt for the Tobias criteria to delimit species. A quantitative method that generates a score using traits such as phenotypic differences in song, plumage and biometrics along with characters, which can be described, measured or counted, or are consistent in the sex/age class of the taxon (for a full explanation see Tobias et al. 2010). When the score generated by these criteria reaches a threshold of least seven the taxon qualifies as a species in this checklist. The editors have avoiding using terminal taxa as ‘species-units’ in this volume because of their concern that molecular techniques still inconsistently delimit taxa and that there would be too many taxa generated. The remaining pages of the introduction give detailed explanations of the core parts of the checklist and how to navigate through the text and maps.

The most obvious difference between this and other checklists is that it illustrated. The illustrations are clear and well detailed and in full colour. Many are taken from HBW, although new illustrations are included for new species (mostly added through splitting or lumping), although some illustrations have been revised. The maps are small, postage-stamp sized, yet clear and colour-coded to address variations such as migrations and breeding ranges.

In terms of strengths and weaknesses my first thought was—its big, therefore please make it into a searchable and friendly webpage. The good news is that this checklist is designed to be an ongoing process (a work in progress) with input from the users on HBW Alive (www.hbw.com). This website has basic information, but full detail is available to subscribers. One weakness that I see is that the most important birds, the Passeriformes, have again been left till last; now I await Volume 2, proposed for 2016. The strengths are having all the world’s birds, up to date and illustrated in colour with maps and taxonomic notes at your fingertips in a single volume and conveniently on the same double-page spread. The illustrations are the recognisable units that many readers will identify with quickly when searching for taxa. The adoption of the Tobias criteria for delimiting species will be a strength for some and a weakness for others. I suspect that a majority may see it as a strength. I would prefer the full use of terminal taxa, in which each taxon is represented on a tree as the tip of each branch no matter how small and in that way equal to others.

The text aids ornithology by consolidating a great deal of information in one place and then concisely putting that core data conveniently at your finger-tips. Outside the book but within the scope of the project the latest data can be investigated though the website, which is being constantly updated. It is an important research tool and a useful addition to any biological or ornithological library. Ecologists need to know exactly what taxa they are working with to be able to report their findings. Systematists and the subset of taxonomists will see this as another step perhaps closer to the final understanding of the avian tree. It will become a standard text for many with very varied functions.

The research and level of referencing are massive, much of which has been taken from the seven volumes (non-passerines) of the BBW and then updated considerably for this text. The bibliography in this text contains 1,982 citations and the large introduction also carries a substantial citation list. The writing style is concise within the checklist as might be expected and it is simple and clear to navigate. The introduction, discussed above, seems a little subjective arguing toward a point that would suit the authors then opting for the Tobias criteria. The remainder of the introduction is objective clearly explaining in necessary detail the sections of the checklist and how to use them. Supplementary material in the form of colour illustrations and photographs in the introduction are well used large, clear and to the point. The book is about quarto-sized, the same size as the original HBW volumes. The paper used in the book was “sourced from managed sustainable forests”.

The audience addressed by this work must be strong enough to lift its 4.28 kg. Its size and content clearly identify it as a serious reference for professionals and libraries, although no doubt there will be some amateur birders who will want it. I would recommend this book to reference libraries especially biological libraries, museum libraries and those people that need a checklist of the world’s birds for their work. The introduction would be useful for biodiversity students and those interested in the delimitation of species/subspecies and terminal taxa.

Graham R. Fulton
School of Veterinary and Life Sciences Murdoch University, South Street Murdoch, WA Australia
 

REFERENCES

Cracraft, J., 1983. Species concepts and speciation analysis. Current Ornithology 1: 159-187.

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J. and Christie, D. A., 1992–2013. Handbook of the Birds of the World. 17 vols. Lynx Edicions, Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Peters, J. L. [and subsequent authors]., 1934-1987. Check-list of birds of the world. 16 vols. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Sibley, C. G. and Monroe, B. L., 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of the birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

Sibley, C. G. and Monroe, B. L. Jr., 1993. Supplement to Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

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.