The great flightless insular moorhen controversy

tristan moorhen

Off the southeastern coast of Africa, the British Empire still holds onto some islands. The most famous of these is St. Helena, where Napoleon lived out his final days in his second exile thousands of miles from France and Europe and any trouble he might want to cause.

On two of these islands, though, a taxonomic controversy has brewed for decades. On Gough Island and Tristan da Cuhna, insular forms of moorhen (also known as gallinules in much of the US) existed.  They were smaller than the common moorhen, and they possessed shorter wings. In this way, they exhibited both insular dwarfism, a common trait of organism evolving on isolated islands, and the loss of flight that sometimes happens when birds evolve without selection pressures from predation to ensure flight in the population.

The moorhens on Gough Island, nearly 400 miles away, were quite similar to those on Tristan da Cunha, and in the 1950s, some Gough island moorhens were introduced to Tristan da Cunha.

These Gough Island birds did quite well on the new island. where an estimated 2,500 breeding pairs now exist. However, because these birds were introduced from Gough Island, they are not regarded as native and are not protected.

Traditionally, experts have regarded the Gough and Tristan moorhens as distinct species. The Gough species is called Gallinula comeri, while the extinct Tristan species is called Gallinula nesiotis.

However, over the years, it has been suggested that the two were of the same species, and the introduction of the Gough species was actually a reintroduction.

Not many DNA studies have been performed on these birds, but the most notable is Groenenberg et al (2008).   This study examined samples that have been collected over the past two centuries, including a specimen from Tristan da Cunha that was collected in 1864.

The authors found that the two forms were roughly genetically distant from each other as different subspecies of the common moorhen. Indeed, if one were wanting to keep the common moorhen a monophyletic species, one would be forced to include these two insular forms as subspecies of the common moorhen.

The authors found that the Gough moorhen had replaced the Tristan form, and they were different taxa. However, because their genetic difference was equivalent to the genetic difference between some common moorhen subspecies, the authors proposed that these two forms be regarded as subspecies, which they propose as Gallinula nesiotis nesiotis and G.n. comeri.

These birds are most closely related to African and European moorhens than they are to South American ones,

However, the debate gets fairly interesting here because the South American common moorhens are typically considered subspecies of a quite wide-ranging species. When the authors performed their research, the common moorhen was believed to have existed in Eurasia, Africa, and the Americas, but in 2011, the New World population was given full species status, which is usually called the common gallinule. Taxonomists fixed the paraphyly of the common moorhen by creating this new American species (Gallinula galeata).

But this study does not fix the controversy about the moorhens on Tristan da Cunha. Even if the Gough and Tristan populations constitute different subspecies, a real debate can be made as to whether the birds on Tristan da Cunha represent an introduction or a reintroduction.

And this is where the subjectivity part of taxonomy sets in. If the Gough subspecies behaves in the ecosystem in an equivalent way to the extinct Tristan subspecies on Tristan da Cunha, then one could just make the argument that the arrival of these birds in the 1950s was a reintroduction. If they behave in a fundamentally different way from the extinct Tristan birds, then they were simply introduced and certainly don’t require any special protections as a native species under the law.

But the subjective part is where to draw the line between being fundamentally similar or fundamentally different. Yes, the Gough subspecies is genetically different, and it may have some attributes that cause it behave just slightly differently from the extinct Tristan subspecies.

However one answers this question, one should keep in mind that it cannot answered so easily.

This debate is quite strong, not just in gallinules and moorhens, but a big debate exists within some quarters as to whether the feral horses of the American West represent a rewilding from the Pleistocene. Horse evolved in North America and then became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene, but a huge debate exists on how to classify the various late Pleistocene horses. They may have been a single species that was very close to the modern horse. In which case, the feral horses of the American West might be argued to be rewilding population. A more recent study on cheek teeth and ancient mitochondrial DNA of these horses revealed there were three species of horse in North America at the end of the Pleistocene, one of which was very close to the modern horse.

But the Pleistocene ended around 10,000 years ago, and the ecosystems that maintained horses on the range no longer exist in the same way. In this case, one could not honestly say that this was a rewilding. It would be an introduction. (That’s where I stand on the horses as native wildlife controversy.)

However, I’ve often thought about what would happen if we somehow got greater prairie chickens to thrive on the East Coast once again. A subspecies of the greater prairie chicken called the heath hen once ranged all the way down the coast from New England to Northern Virginia. It was a colonial staple, and it was hunted out of existence.

The last population of these birds lived on Martha’s Vineyard, and the last one died in 1932. Attempts have been made to introduce greater prairie chickens to the island in an attempt to restore something like the heath hen to the island, but these attempts have fails.  If such an attempt were successful, it would be very much like the replacement of the Tristan moorhen with the Gough subspecies.  A debate could be had as to whether it was was reintroduction or not, but at least it would be something.

So the story of the moorhens on these South Atlantic islands tells the story of a controversy. It is one that rages in the conservation community all the time. Can you restore an extinct subspecies by introducing another related subspecies?

That answer is never going to be fully black and white. Ecological as well as taxonomic considerations have to be examined. Otherwise, someone could easily make the argument that wolf reintroduction and conservation are silly ideas, because, well, domestic dogs are everywhere. Dogs are a subspecies of wolf, so they just replaced them.

So this controversy will rage hard as we try to deal with this nasty extinction mess. We don’t always have all the answers. We don’t always have the best solutions. But we need to think it through carefully. It’s all gray or grayish.

Natural History

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Happy Boston Marathon Day! Can I just say that I love that this dog is named Spencer, (I’m assuming) after the famous fictional private investigator based in Boston. Remember Spencer for Hire on television? He was from a series of books by Robert B. Parker, which I highly recommend for those of you who like […] Dog Blog

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12 Deliciously Simple Mexican Food Inspired Recipes

Taco Tuesday! The Best Vegan Tacos Ever

Whether you know me in real life or through this blog, you’re probably aware of the fact that I love Mexican food. I mean, love. And lucky for me, everyone in my house loves it too, so we eat it in some form at least a couple of times a week. Today I thought I’d share a round up of a dozen of my favorite Mexican food inspired recipes I’ve created for Bubby and Bean over the last couple of years. Most are my own takes and admittedly not authentically Mexican, but in one way or another they are inspired by our travels to Mexico and what I consider to be the most delicious cuisine in the world. And best of all, they’re all simple and easy to prepare. Just click on the images or links below them to view each recipe in full.

Summertime Watermelon and Feta Guacamole Dip

Jasmine Rice and Black Bean Burrito Bowls
Vegetarian Breakfast Tacos with Red and Yellow Potatoes
Jasmine Rice, Lentil, and Red Quinoa Tacos
5 Delicious Vegetarian Game Day Recipes
Salsa Verde and Black Bean Quesadilla Wraps
Vegan, Plant-Based Nachos, 3 Ways
Pomegranate Seed Guacamole
4 Delicious Autumn Soups

Anyone else a big fan of Mexican food? What’s your favorite recipe?


Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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10 Plants to Remove from Your Dog’s Yard

I have to admit that I love sago palms. I love the look of them and the tropical feel they give a yard. But we don’t have a sago palm — and we’ll never have a sago palm —…

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Just Chillin’

Gotta’ love ‘em! Until next time, Good day, and good dog! Dog Blog

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Fun Easter Baskets + Homemade Sweet Easter Snack Mix

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This post is in partnership with Mars Wrigley Confectionery. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

You guys already know from all the gushing I do that I absolutely love springtime. And one of my favorite parts of springtime is putting together fun Easter baskets for my little ones. This year, I decided that I wanted to make a special snack to put in the baskets and came up with the most delicious recipe for a festive, colorful Easter snack mix made with popcorn and M&M’S® Pastel Milk Chocolate and M&M’S® Pastel Peanut candies. Today I thought I’d share the recipe with you, and also show how I create fun, festive Easter baskets using the snack mix and other goodies.

The first thing I did was head over to Sam’s Club to pick up the most important part of the mix: M&M’S® Pastel Milk Chocolate and M&M’S® Pastel Peanut Sam’s Club pantry jars. These resealable jars are an incredible value and are perfect for all of the decorating and baking I love to do around Easter time. They’re also great for filling my candy dish with fun colored, festive M&M’S® candies for spring. Being able to able to get items in bulk for incredible members-only prices at Sam’s Club is so convenient, especially for recipes like this when I’m planning on making a bunch to hand out to friends as well. Sam’s Club also rocks when I’m in a rush. I can order items online on their app and drive right up for them to bring them out for me. So good!

8-10 cups popped popcorn
1-1/2 cups vanilla baking chips
1 cup mini pretzel twists, broken up
1-1/2 to 2 cups M&M’S® Pastel Milk Chocolate and M&M’S® Pastel Peanut candies
Easter-themed sprinkles

In a large bowl, combine the popped popcorn, pretzels, and M&M’S® candies. Melt the vanilla baking chips in the microwave (30 seconds at a time between stirring) or a double broiler until completely melted. Pour the melted vanilla chips over the popcorn mixture while stirring. When well combined, spread the mixture evenly on a wax or parchment paper covered baking sheet, and immediately cover with sprinkles. Gently stir so sprinkles stick to the vanilla coating. Allow to fully cool and break into pieces. Fill party bags with the snack mix for baskets (more on this below) and store the rest in an airtight container.

So easy. So delicious!

And now on to my favorite part, the Easter Baskets! (NOTE: I realize it might be a little silly to word this like a DIY when in truth, you’re just arranging some things in a basket, but for the sake of staying organized, let’s just go with it.)

baskets (duh)
filler (either Easter grass, tissue, or pieces of fabric)
cellophane party bags
small toys*
small stuffed animals*
Easter eggs (we usually do a mix of real colored eggs and plastic eggs filled with M&M’S® candies)

*Obviously these items can be changed out to best suit the interests of the receiver. My kids are young so we usually go for small toys and stuffies, crayons, bubbles, etc.

If you’re super crafty, you can always make a basket, but I’m more of a “I love to decorate but not from complete scratch” type of person, so I buy them. I have a thing for baskets in general, and when I choose which Easter Baskets to use for the kids each year, I try to pick ones that are well made and pretty, so they can use them beyond just the holiday. For the items to fill the baskets, I usually go for small toys and stuffed animals that I also know will be used and not viewed as disposable. I also go back and forth on Easter grass… When I do use it, I choose the paper kind (much more eco-friendly), but lately, I’ve been trying to avoid it all together and just use tissue paper or pieces of fabric.

Before you put together your baskets, fill clear cellophane party bags 1/2 to 2/3 full with the Sweet Easter Snack Mix. Cut pieces of ribbon and tie bows to close.

Next, place all of the items on a table (or if you’re like me and really like to spread out, the floor) along with the baskets. Start with filler, then add the bag or bags of Sweet Easter Snack mix, followed by the toys and stuffed animals. At this point it’s pretty much subjective in terms of finished appearance, but I recommend displaying the goodies at varying heights, with the smallest items toward the front. There are no rules other than to have fun. And that’s it!

I hope you guys love this yummy Sweet Easter Snack Mix as much as I do! It’s so easy, and something your kids can help make as well. Just head to your local Sam’s Club, grab some M&M’S® Pastel Milk Chocolate and M&M’S® Pastel Peanut pantry jars from their snack area, get a couple baskets and some small toys, and you’re pretty much good to go.

Enjoy, and Happy Easter!

Nutritional Information: Ingredient and nutritional information can be found on packages.

This post has been sponsored by Mars Wrigley Confectionery. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that help make Bubby and Bean possible.


Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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死亡というあまりいいイメージのない言葉と、「美容整形 よかった」といういい言葉で調べてみたところ、後者の方が検索結果がはるかに多いということもわかりました。


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Modern North American cougars are part North American cheetah


It is now widely accepted through ancient mitochondrial DNA analysis that North America’s Pleistocene “cheetahs” were actually offshoots of the modern cougar lineage and were not directly ancestral to the cheetah of the Old World.

However, these mitochondrial DNA studies did not reveal the full picture.  A full genome sequence was recently mapped from a specimen of Miracinonyx trumani, and this full genome has been compared to similar genomes of North American and South American cougars.

The researchers found something quite amazing.  We thought that the original population of North American cougars went extinct at the end of the Pleistocene as did the two “cheetahs.” About 8,000 years ago, cougars from South America recolonized North America, and these cougars that came into North America are the ancestors of the living cougars on this continent.

And because of the limited genetic diversity of the North American cougar, this 8,000 year point of origin is most likely.

However, what is particularly interesting is that between 8-12 percent of the North American cougar’s genome apparently comes from Miracinonyx trumani.  Estimates of when this introgression happened based upon the molecular clock suggest an entrance into the ancestral North American cougar 7,700-8,100 years ago.

So Miracinonyx trumani apparently lasted a few thousand years after the end of the Pleistocene, and when South American cougars recolonized North America, they mated with the now extinct “cheetah” species. This hybridization could have conferred upon these newly colonizing cougars some important alleles for surviving at temperate latitudes, which tropical cougars may have lacked.

Humans certainly were aware of the existence of the North American “cheetahs,” and if they survived to this late date, stories of their existence could have existed throughout indigenous American cultures.

Perhaps these cats lasted even longer, maybe even giving credence to the legendary Mexican onza.

Natural History

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