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A re-evaluation of morphological differences in the Karoo Thrush Turdus smithi – Olive Thrush Turdus olivaceus species complex

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There is confusion in the literature concerning the taxonomic status of the Turdus smithi – T. olivaceus species complex. Here we attempt to clarify morphological differences within this complex. In addition, we attempt to clarify identification of the respective taxa. Although mean measurements of morphometric features differed significantly between species and subspecies, these features are not useful in separating species or subspecies due to considerable overlap in measurements. Furthermore, there were often larger differences between subspecies of T. olivaceus (particularly the geographically isolated T. o. swynnertoni) than between T. olivaceus and T. smithi. We therefore suggest that further work investigates the elevation of T. o. swynnertoni to full species status. Plumage characteristics proved more useful in separating T. olivaceus and T. smithi in the field, except in regions where the distributions overlap (potential hybridisation zones). We highlight the importance of clarifying the delineation of separate species particularly with respect to bird census data (e.g. Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2) and studies related to these species.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2009

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