Dr Leo Joseph ‘Australian bird names are all sorted out. Yes? No? Maybe?’

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Thursday, 10 March 2022 - 12:30pm

Leo, Director of the Australian National Wildlife Collection, CSIRO, will focus on birds from northern Australia to show where knowledge of the names we need to apply to birds still needs a lot more work.  Examples from lorikeets, friarbirds, orioles, quail-thrush, whipbirds, black-cockatoos, pigeons and maybe a few more!


So, the birds of Australia, and indeed the birds of the world, have all been discovered and named and that’s about it, right? Well, maybe and maybe not.  It is true that birds are probably the best-known single group of animals in all of zoology. Yet in many ways that just enables ornithologists to ask different questions about birds and their evolutionary history, the kinds of questions that many other zoologists can only dream about because they still have so much work to do describing species from handfuls of specimens and with incomplete knowledge about each species’ total geographical range and geographical variation, for example. At higher taxonomic levels, ornithologists have been probing relationships among the major groups of birds of the world for the last few decades and finding all sorts of surprises. And down at the species level, ornithologists worldwide can better pinpoint where our knowledge of what we think is one species needs to be re-examined to see whether there are two or more species present. Oh, and what about those pesky cases of birds that are widely separated geographically with no genetic exchange happening today but which are thought of either as variants of one species in some cases and two or more species in other cases. Why is this so?  And let’s not forget hybridization, when two species of birds interbreed. What might that mean or not mean? And last but not least, the DNA of each species will be unique to that species, yes? Um, well, no, not always. Australia and New Guinea are full of examples of all of these different issues and the different levels from species up to family at which we can query the names we apply to birds and groups of birds. The talk will focus in on examples from northern Australia generally and north Queensland specifically to show where our knowledge of the names we need to apply to birds really still needs a lot more work. Examples will come from lorikeets, friarbirds, orioles, quail-thrush, whipbirds, black-cockatoos, pigeons and maybe a few more!


Dr Leo Joseph is Director of the Australian National Wildlife Collection, CSIRO. Originally from Adelaide, Leo became interested in birds and how they have evolved, especially here in Australia and New Guinea, at an early age. His interests focus on how birds of Australia and New Guinea have evolved against the geological and environmental histories of the region, and how present-day communities been assembled over time.  Hooked early on working in a museum environment, he likes to integrate what we can learn from DNA with what we can learn from seeing birds in their natural habitats. After undergrad and Honours at the University of Adelaide, he completed a PhD at the University of Queensland in 1994. From 1994-97 he lived in Uruguay where he held a joint postdoctoral-Visiting Professor position at the Universidad de la Republica in Montevideo.  On moving to the USA in 1997, he was curator and eventually Chair of the Department of Ornithology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia until returning to Australia in 2005.  He took up his present position as Director of the Australian National Wildlife Collection at CSIRO at the end of 2005. 

Lunchtime talks are held at 12.30 pm every Thursday from February to November in the Gardens’ Theatrette. Talks last for 1 hour. Admission is by gold coins donation. The Friends use the ‘gold’ coins donations received at each activity to support Gardens’ programs and development and thank all those who have donated. Please note: unless otherwise indicated, talks are in the ANBG Theatrette.

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