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Cryptic species in a vulnerable seabird: short-tailed albatross consists of two species

Masaki Eda*, Takeshi Yamasaki, Hiroe Izumi, Naoki Tomita, Satoshi Konno, Miwa Konno, Hayao Murakami, Fumio Sato

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The occurrence of cryptic species within a threatened taxon is rare, but where they do occur, understanding species boundaries is essential for planning an effective conservation strategy. The short-tailed albatross Phoebastria albatrus is a Vulnerable seabird that mainly breeds on Torishima and the Senkaku Islands in the western North Pacific. Although it has been tacitly regarded as a single management unit with 2 breeding sites, the species is known to comprise 2 genetically separated populations (Senkaku-type and Torishima-type). However, morphological examination of birds from both populations has not been conducted owing to the difficulty in accessing the Senkaku Islands. In this study, we examined the morphological differences between immigrants from the Senkaku Islands to Torishima (Senkaku-type) and native birds on Torishima (Torishima-type) and found significant differences in morphological characteristics between the 2 bird types. In general, Torishima-type birds were larger than Senkaku-type birds, whereas Senkaku-type birds had relatively longer beaks. Based on the morphological differences found in this study as well as genetic and ecological differences revealed in previous studies, we believe that Senkaku- and Torishima-type birds should be classified as different cryptic species. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first case of cryptic species being found in a threatened avian species.