Maghreb Wheatear (Oenanthe halophila) could be a new North African endemic

Oenanthe halophila pourrait être une nouvelle espèce endémique pour l’Afrique du Nord, mais pas pour l’instant.

Dans un article publié récemment par Schweizer & Shirihai dans le journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, les auteurs ont recommandé de diviser le Traquet deuil Oenanthe lugens (sensu lato) en trois espèces différentes, mais il n’ont pas allés jusqu’à élever le taxon nord-africain halophila au rang d’espèce à part entière, i.e. le Traquet halophile Oenanthe halophila. Il convient de noter que seulement 2 échantillons de halophila (dont un collecté à partir de Douz en Tunisie) ont été inclus dans cette étude, alors que d’autres groupes étaient suffisamment échantillonnés. Cela montre encore plus que le statut taxonomique de halophila n’est pas concluant et a besoin d’autres études. Donc l’affaire est à suivre.

A paper about the phylogeny of the Oenanthe lugens complex is published in the latest issue (December 2003) of Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution journal by Schweizer & Shirihai. In this study the authors recommended splitting of the Mourning Wheatear complex into three different species, but stopped short of recognising the North African taxon halophila as a distinct species, i.e. the Maghreb Wheatear Oenanthe halophila. Here are the three species-groups that the study recommended elevating them to the species rank (see their distribution range in the map below):

1) Oenanthe lugubris (East Africa) with 3 subspecies:

  • Oenanthe lugubris lugubris,
  • Oenanthe (lugubris) vauriei, and
  • Oenanthe (lugubris) schalowi

2) Oenanthe lugentoides (southern Arabian Peninsula) with 2 subspecies :

  • Oenanthe l. lugentoides, and
  • Oenanthe lugentoides boscaweni

3) Oenanthe lugens, with 4 subspecies:

  • Oenanthe lugens lugens,
  • Oenanthe (lugens) halophila,
  • Oenathe lugens warriae, and
  • Oenanthe (lugens) persica.

Here is an excerpt from the conclusion of the paper concerning the North African taxon:

“Although halophila and lugens have only very recently separated, the former is unique among the taxa of the lugens group in showing strong sexual dimorphism. Moreover, males can be constantly separated by plumage characteristics from lugens and persica, and halophila differs slightly in vocalizations from lugens (Shirihai et al., 2011; Shirihai and Svensson, in prep.). This could be taken as evidence that halophila might have reached reproductive isolation from O. lugens and should be considered a species in its own right, i.e. Maghreb Wheatear Oenanthe halophila. However, until especially vocalizations of the whole lugens group have been quantitatively analyzed, until indications of potential pre-zygotic isolation have been investigated (cf. Randler et al., 2011), and until the status of persica is clarified, we conservatively propose maintaining halophila and warriae (as well as persica) as subspecies within O. lugens. This study thus serves as a baseline for further research using an integrative approach to disentangling the taxonomy of this complex radiation”. It should be noted that some authors have already split the North African taxon halophila from the lugens complex (e.g. Svensson et al., 2009. Collins Bird Guide, second ed.). It should also be noted that only 2 samples of halophica (one collected from Douz, Tunisia) were included in this study. While other groups were much more sufficiently sampled. This shows even more that the taxonomic status of halophila is not conclusive and needs further studies”.


Schweizer, M., & Shirihai, H. (2013). Phylogeny of the Oenanthe lugens complex (Aves, Muscicapidae: Saxicolinae): Paraphyly of a morphologically cohesive group within a recent radiation of open-habitat chats. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 69 (3): 450–461. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2013.08.010

Maghreb Wheatear - Oenanthe (lugens) halophila

Maghreb Wheatear – Traquet halophile – Oenanthe (lugens) halophila, Morocco. (Ron Knight on flickr, license CC-by)

Distribution of the 9 different taxa of Oenanthe lugens complex

Distribution of the 9 different taxa of Oenanthe lugens complex. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2013.08.010

Maghreb Wheatear - Traquet halophile - Oenanthe (lugens) halophila, Batna, Algeria

Maghreb Wheatear – Traquet halophile – Oenanthe (lugens) halophila, Batna, Algeria (photo: Raouf Guechi, flickr)

This entry was posted in Algeria, Libya, Morocco, North Africa, Taxonomy, Tunisia and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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