Archived 2014 discussion: Crestless Fireback (Lophura erythopthalma) is being split: list both L. erythopthalma and L. pyronota as Vulnerable?

This is part of a consultation on the Red List implications of extensive changes to BirdLife’s taxonomy for non-passerines

Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International will soon publish the HBW-BirdLife Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, building off the Handbook of the Birds of the World series, and BirdLife’s annually updated taxonomic checklist.

The new Checklist will be based on the application of criteria for recognising species limits described by Tobias et al. (2010). Full details of the specific scores and the basis of these for each new taxonomic revision will be provided in the Checklist.

Following publication, an open and transparent mechanism will be established to allow people to comment on the taxonomic revisions or suggest new ones, and provide new information of relevance in order to inform regular updates. We are also actively seeking input via a discussion topic here regarding some potential taxonomic revisions that currently lack sufficient information.

The new Checklist will form the taxonomic basis of BirdLife’s assessments of the status of the world’s birds for the IUCN Red List. The taxonomic changes that will appear in volume 1 of the checklist (for non-passerines) will begin to be incorporated into the 2014 Red List update, with the remainder, and those for passerines (which will appear in volume 2 of the checklist), to be incorporated into subsequent Red List updates.

Preliminary Red List assessments have been carried out for the newly split or lumped taxa. We are now requesting comments and feedback on these preliminary assessments.

Crestless Fireback Lophura erythopthalma is being split into L. erythopthalma and L. pyronota, following the application of criteria set out by Tobias et al. (2010).

Prior to this taxonomic change, L. erythopthalma (BirdLife species factsheet) was listed as Vulnerable under criteria A2c,d+A3c,d+A4c,d, on the basis that it was suspected to be undergoing a rapid population decline (30-49% over three generations [c.15 years]), owing to on-going habitat loss and degradation, and hunting pressure.

L. erythrophthalma (as defined following the taxonomic change) occurs in Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra, where it appears to rely heavily on lowland primary forest, although it has been recorded in secondary forest in Malaysia (del Hoyo et al. 1994, Madge and McGowan 2002). It may qualify as Vulnerable under criteria A2cd+3cd+4cd, on the basis that it could be in rapid population decline (30-49% over three generations [c.15 years]) owing to on-going habitat loss and degradation, and hunting pressure.

L. pyronota is endemic to Borneo, where it appears to be restricted to lowland primary forest (del Hoyo et al. 1994, Madge and McGowan 2002). It may qualify as Vulnerable under criteria A2cd+3cd+4cd; C2a(ii), on the basis that it is likely to have a small population (fewer than 10,000 mature individuals), probably forming a single subpopulation, which could be in rapid decline (30-49% over three generations [c.15 years]) owing to on-going habitat loss and degradation, and hunting pressure.

Comments on these suggested categories are invited and further information would be welcomed.


del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the birds of the world, Vol 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions.

Madge, S. and McGowan, P. (2002) Pheasants, partridges and grouse: including buttonquails, sandgrouse and allies. London: Christopher Helm (Helm Identification Guide).

Tobias, J. A., Seddon, N., Spottiswoode, C. N., Pilgrim, J. D., Fishpool, L. D. C. and Collar, N. J. (2010) Quantitative criteria for species delimitation. Ibis 152: 724–746.

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5 Responses to Archived 2014 discussion: Crestless Fireback (Lophura erythopthalma) is being split: list both L. erythopthalma and L. pyronota as Vulnerable?

  1. Both species show strong preference for peat swamp and other extreme lowland forest types, which are the most threatened and rapidly diminishing of all forest types in the region. In addition, at least pyronota faces significant pressure from hunting. Both taxa may require upgrading in the near future.

  2. Joe Taylor says:

    The following comments were received from David Bishop on 8 July 2013:

    Bornean Crestless Fireback Lophura pyronota

    K. David Bishop’s notes:

    I should from the outset make it clear that I have little or no field experience of this species (L. pyronota). However, despite spending a great deal of time in the field in the lowland forests of Sabah and Sarawak, Borneo I have never heard or seen this species in the wild. I was asked to review and identify species on video-trap footage obtained near Camp 1(?), Gunung Mulu National Park which I if I recall correctly is at >500m elevation. This was a very brief, informal review and I don’t recall how many hours of footage or over what period or what time of year or for that matter what year, however, the video footage did reveal both male and female L. pyronota. In addition it also revealed male great Argus and many large mammals including some very rarely encountered species such as Marbled Cat. Sadly it also revealed a group of indigenous hunters clearly out hunting. I can probably track down more info about this video footage but it may take me a while.

    I have been greatly concerned about the status and conservation of the ‘greater’ species for sometime. Now with the splitting of the two taxa into separate species I am even more concerned than ever. In part this is a gut feeling; in part it is my own lack of encounters with the species in Borneo despite spending a lot time there in the field; but it is also the paucity of really solid records of this species. It seems to me that we have a very poor understanding of the distribution of L. pyronota, its habitat requirements and how its ecology and distribution correlate with Crested Fireback L. ignita. Despite the recent (1990 onwards) increase in the number of observers working in the field in Borneo either recreational birding; professional ornithologists under taking surveys or leading bird-tours there are very few unambiguous records of this species,

    In addition it appears to me that there is contradictory information suggesting that on the one hand this species prefers lowland peat swamp forest (Dave Bakewell, Bas van Balen) and what Derek Holmes used to refer to as pene-plain or extreme lowland forest on level terrain. However, several other authors note that L. pyronota is excluded, replaced, displaced, less successful by/than L. erythropthalma in valley bottoms. Davison (1981) obtained just one record of this species in floodplain alluvial forest within Mulu NP, Sarawak during 30 March to 8 May 1978 the same habitat in which he also recorded L. ignita. Fogden (1976) recorded L. pyronota in ‘rugged country’ between 400 and 600m elevation (a higher elevation than initially listed by Mann (2008). So I’m confused, as indeed our understanding of this species appears to be.

    Clearly this is not a very demonstrative species (note the paucity of recorded vocalisations on any of the sound archives) and seemingly not given to becoming habituated as is L. ignita (pers obs) if unmolested such as at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. The complete loss of lowland forest in vast areas of L. pyronota’s range coupled with the apparent large amount of hunting that apparently still takes place throughout Borneo and my comments above I propose this taxon be raised to globally Vulnerable possibly even Endangered.

  3. Ding Li Yong says:

    Both taxa are peat-swamp specialists, as demonstrated by recent surveys in these environments, although both also extend into plains and riverine lowland dipterocarp forests (as shown by regular observations in Taman Negara National Park, Peninsular Malaysia for L. erythophthalma). The species has also been revealed by camera trapping in disturbed peat swamp forests in Giam Siak Kecil/Bukit Batu in Riau, Sumatra as recently in 2011. There are also recent records of L. pyronota at Tuanan which borders Sebangau National Park in Central Kalimantan in 2009/2010 (Posa 2011). Posa (2011) noted that crestless fireback (L. pyronota) was the most commonly detected bird by the cameras, accounting for 11 of the 16 photos taken (68.8%), suggesting that it may be locally common in intact logged swamp forests.

    However given the rapid rate of habitat loss and hunting pressures, particularly in Sumatra and Borneo, both taxa will merit at least vulnerable.

  4. Joe Taylor says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information and comments posted above, our preliminary proposals for the 2014 Red List would be to treat:

    L. erythrophthalma as Vulnerable under criteria A2cd+3cd+4cd

    L. pyronota as Vulnerable under criteria A2cd+3cd+4cd

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 31 March, after which recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in mid-2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  5. Andy Symes says:

    Recommended categorisations to be put forward to IUCN

    Following further review, there have been no changes to our preliminary proposals for the 2014 Red List status of these species.

    The final categorisations will be published later in 2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by BirdLife and IUCN.

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