The family Emberizidae consists of seedeaters with conical bills and is widespread throughout the world. Godlewski’s bunting is a species in the Emberizidae family that has an extremely large range, including China, Pakistan, India, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Myanmar, and Siberia. Ornithologists from Lanzhou University have published a recent study that argued that the northern and southern populations of Godlewski’s bunting should be treated as two independent species – Emberiza cia and Emberiza godlewskii.
Previous Debate on Species Boundary
The species boundary between Emberiza cia and Emberiza godlewskii has been debated due to the interpretation of morphological variation among geographic populations. Previously, the Godlewski’s bunting was considered conspecific to the rock bunting, which is distributed from Central Asia and the western Himalayas through southern Europe to northwestern Africa. However, the species boundary between Emberiza cia and Emberiza godlewskii has been disputed due to the interpretation of morphological variation among geographic populations.
New Research by Lanzhou University Ornithologists
The new research by Lanzhou University ornithologists reconstructed the phylogenetic relationships of all Emberiza godlewskii subspecies across their distribution range. By comparing the morphological measurements and plumage color from all subspecies of the Emberiza godlewskii/Emberiza cia complex, the researchers delimitated the species boundary based on integrative evidence.
New Classification of Godlewski’s Bunting
The results of the study show that the species Emberiza cia is the sister group of a clade composed of the northern populations of Emberiza godlewskii. The southern populations of Emberiza godlewskii, known as the subspecies Emberiza godlewskii yunnanensis (south rock bunting), should be elevated to species status. Emberiza yunnanensis is between 15.1 and 16.5 cm in length, and weighs between 16 and 21 grams. It differs from Emberiza godlewskii in having a significantly darker colored belly. The body size of the males is slightly larger than that of the females. Emberiza yunnanensis occurs on dry and rocky hilly slopes, karst forests, and wooded ravines in southwestern China.
Implications of the New Classification
The research provides direct evidence of cryptic species in Old World buntings and suggests that species diversity of birds in East Asia may be underestimated. The new classification of Godlewski’s bunting has important implications for conservation efforts as the southern populations of Emberiza godlewskii have different ecological requirements and may require different conservation measures than the northern populations.