New insights into Pyrrhura lepida and perlata taxonomy

In April this year a new publication was published on Pyrrhura perlata and Pyrrhura lepida taxonomy. Marina Somenzari and Luis Silvio Silveira of the Museu de Zoologia da Universidade in Sao Paulo researched 174 museum skins of Pyrrhura in the lepida complex. These included birds from the taxa known as Pyrrhura perlata, Pyrrhura lepida lepida, Pyrrhura lepida coerulescens and Pyrrhura lepida anerythra.  Of these 4 taxa two have a very clear phenotype that has not been questioned. These are Pyrrhura perlata and Pyrrhura lepida anerythra.  There has been a lot of confusion around the differences between P. l. lepida and P. l. courelescens.  The main difference between those two subspecies should have been the amount of blue on the belly, neck and cheeks, but knowing that this can vary a lot even between nest-mates their have been a lot of questions about the validity of this split. Ornith0-genetics has been considering to research skins of these taxons ourselves, but unfortunately a lack of human resources has prevented this till now and therefore we are very happy with the publication of the paper.

The writers conclude that after researching all skins that only 3 taxa can be recognized: Pyrrhura perlata, Pyrrhura anerythra and Pyrrhura coerulescens. Pyrrhura perlata is the very well known species with a red belly, red on the bend of the wing and under-wing coverts. Also the cheeks of this species are more yellowish-green. This taxon can be found from the western bank of the Madeira River to the eastern bank of the Tapajo´s River, and is restricted to south of Amazon River.

Pyrrhura anerythra has a green belly, but has maroon feathers between the legs that could extend to the below part of the belly although this is not a coherent patch. The species has green-blueish underwing coverts and no red on the bend of the wing. The species lives in the states of Para and Mato Grosso, limited by the Tocantins River to the east and by Amazon biome boundaries to the south.

The third taxon that is recognized by the authors include the previous known taxa Pyrrhura lepida lepida and Pyrrhura lepida coerulescens. As not distinction could be found between these two the authors propose to merge them into Pyrrhura coerulescens. This taxon has a green belly, red underwing coverts and red on the bend of the wing. In some individuals some maroon scaling on the belly was found but never in the quantity of Pyrrhyra anerythra.  This taxon can found in the states of Para, Maranhao and Tocantins, including the forested portion (west) of Ilha do Marajo , and is limited to the east by the Araguaia-Tocantins River.  Also it should be noted that the authors recognize a hybrid zone where Pyrrhura coerulescens and Pyrrhura anerythra overlap and birds of intermediary phenotypes can be found.

This brings us as well with the name change of Pyrrhura lepida into Pyrrhura coerulescens.  The original description by Kuhl in 1820 gives the original name of Psittacus lepidus but the naming was based on a serie of skins of mixed species and Kuhl did not mention one specific specimen on which the description was based. This series contains two skins one later to be found a juvenile Pyrrhura perlata and the other the specimen actually shows characteristics from both Pyrrhura coerulescens and Pyrrhura anerythra. As it is an hybrid it cannot be used for the naming of the species. So Psittacus lepidus has become again an available name but it is not linked with any wild population. Therefore the next oldest name has to be picked which is the name proposed by Neumann in 1927 which is Pyrrhura coerulescens. 

All three taxa are threatened by logging of their habitat although none of them is threatened yet. Pyrrhura perlata and Pyrrhura coerulescens are considered vulnerable and Pyrrhura coerulescens which is under severe logging pressure although it has a wide distribution is proposed to be considered as near threatened.

The paper is very clear and comes to conclusions that were expected but could have not been made before due to a lack of research.  More field research would be desirable especially for Pyrrhura anerythra and Pyrrhura coerulescens to see how both taxa are dealing with the logging pressure and what the exact population size and trend is. P. coerulescens is a common species in captivity and breeds readily, but Pyrrhurra anerythra  has no captive population so in case of a population crash due to the destruction of the habitat the taxon will be completely gone. This makes field research and more knowledge on the population trend quite urgent.

I would question the conclusion of the authors to elevate all three taxa to species level. All three are very closely related and even though they are looking very distinct they are quite close. As the authors give no reason or support for this elevation I would propose to treat all three taxa as one species with three subspecies. As Pyrrhura perlata is the oldest name I would propose:  Pyrrhyra perlata perlata, Pyrrhura perlata anerythra and Pyrrhura perlata coerulescens. 


Source: Somenzari M. and Silveira L. S. (2015), Taxonomy of the Pyrrhura perlata-coerulescens complex (Psittaciformes: Psittacidae) with description of a hybrid zone, Journal of Ornitholgy April 2015