What is the real scientific name for great spotted kiwi?

What is the real scientific name for great spotted kiwi?

The name Apteryx haastii was applied to great spotted kiwi in 1872. However, a recent study by Researcher Lara Shepherd, Vertebrate Curator Alan Tennyson, and collaborators, has shown that Apteryx haastii is not what we thought it was.

A type specimen (or, in some cases, a group of specimens) is a specimen on which the scientific name and description of a species is based. Thomas Henry Potts described Apteryx haastii based on two type specimens (PDF; 1.4MB). However, it has long been known that these type specimens look a bit odd compared to the birds that we know as great spotted kiwi today.

Another red flag is that the type specimens were collected from near Ōkārito, which is further south than the northwest of the South Island where great spotted kiwi currently occur. However, hybrids between two other species of kiwi, rowi and little spotted kiwi, are known from Ōkārito. Could the Apteryx haastii type specimens actually be hybrids?

We sequenced DNA from the two Apteryx haastii type specimens. Our DNA results, combined with analysis of their morphology, indicated that they were indeed hybrids between rowi and little spotted kiwi. This means that Apteryx haastii is not the correct scientific name for the birds that today are known as great spotted kiwi.

Therefore another scientific name was needed to define what is now widely known as the great spotted kiwi. Consequently, we resurrected the name Apteryx maxima, which has not been used since 1893, for the spotted kiwi from the northwest South Island. Our genetic analysis confirmed that the type specimen of Apteryx maxima, which is held at Te Papa, is not a hybrid and is representative of the kiwi in this region.

Photo of Apteryx maxima

Great spotted kiwi, Apteryx maxima, collected 23 December 1981, near Charleston, Buller County, New Zealand. CC BY 4.0. Te Papa (OR.022663)

Further reading

Shepherd LD, Tennyson AJD, Robertson HA, Colbourne RM, Ramstad KM. 2021. Hybridisation in kiwi (Apteryx; Apterygidae) required taxonomic revision for the Great Spotted Kiwi. Avian Research 12: 24

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