Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I'm Not The Same As When I Began: Subspecies I

Back to the blog-grind! Sorry for the break....it's hard being Number 8, you know what I'm saying?

Ok. So for those in the nerdier realms (the true-blue birders, that is), I'm going to start a series on subspecies. It's not something people know much about.....but people like to pretend they do. So without getting too boring, hopefully we will all learn something.

Let's begin with a quick, bastardized definition. What is a subspecies? A subspecies is a genetically distinct division of a species, often arising from geographical isolation. Where the ranges of subspecies overlap, these variants may/will interbreed and produce reproductively viable offspring. We, The People of Earth, belong to the species Homo sapiens, but are actually the subspecies H. sapiens sapiens. The other subspecies are obviously extinct. If you would like to learn more about this....I'm sure there are some more appropriate anthropology blogs out there.

So. The bird featured above is America's own subspecies of Herring Gull, Larus argenteus smithsonianus. They can be found.....well, almost anywhere in the country. There are 10 (approximately) subspecies of Herring Gulls in the world, some of which are given full species status by various taxonomic authorities. It's all very convoluted. I will venture to say that there are good reasons why we can identify this subspecies as a L.a. smithsonianus and not one of it's almost-identical relatives...but off the top of my head, I don't know them. How embarrassing! 

This adult, with a red-eared slider as a companion, was at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, CA. Let me know if I got my turtle ID wrong. 

Thayer's Gulls (Larus thayeri) are not prescribed any subspecies, but many believe this species is conspecific (meaning they are actually the same species) with Iceland Gulls (Larus glaucoides). What I'm saying is that maybe they're two subspecies of the same thing. Having never seen an Iceland Gull, I do not feel very passionately about this controversial topic. Identifying both species (subspecies?) from more distant relatives is a major chore as it is. This first-year/first-cycle bird was photographed at Lake Merced, San Francisco, CA.

Peregrine Falcon vs. Tufted Puffin. Falco peregrinus pealei vs. Fratercula cirrhata. This is Peale's Peregrine Falcon, the darkest of the 3 American subspecies (there are 19 total around the world). Peale's are largely restricted to Alaska's Aleutian Island chain, and are thought to mostly winter there, weather permitting. Tufted Puffins do not get any subspecies treatment....Tufted Puffins are Tufted Puffins, apparently. Photographed at Buldir Island, AK.

Ah, my beloved Great Frigatebird. Fregata minor palmerstoni. Sailor of tropical skies. These birds can travel mind-boggling distances on the regular, but must be relatively reproductively isolated because they have a surprising 5 subspecies. This immature was photographed at Eastern Island at Midway Atoll.

Right. How did that go? Have I won your hearts and minds?

To finish things off with a bang, here is another reason why reduced biodiversity could mean trouble for mankind. Cool study.