November 15, 2004


Hybrid owl upsets politics of threatened species (JEFF BARNARD, 6/21/04, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

It hoots kind of like a northern spotted owl, and looks kind of like a northern spotted owl.

And like a spotted owl, it swoops in to take a mouse offered on a stick by U.S. Forest Service scientist Eric Forsman in a rainy stand of old-growth Douglas fir in the Willamette National Forest.

However, this is a hybrid - a cross between a northern spotted owl and a barred owl - and it is one of the wrinkles in the future of the bird that triggered sharp logging cutbacks in the Northwest in 1994 through the Northwest Forest Plan.

Bad enough when it turned out those Galopogan finches can all cross breed if they want to...

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 15, 2004 11:58 PM

Like the Snail Darter, the Spotted Owl was found by the Greens when they went out looking for an endangered species they could use to stop human activity of which they dissapproved.

Posted by: David Cohen at November 16, 2004 8:55 AM


Careful, Jeff thinks humans have nothing to do with it. Wouldn't want to set him off....

Posted by: oj at November 16, 2004 10:44 AM

The dirty little secret of biology is that the definition of a "species" is arbitrary, often based on superficial characteristics, and subject to change and post hoc revisionism.

For example, in order to support attempts to import Canadian wolves into US National Parks, it was decided that the earlier 22 species were really only 5, and miracle of miracle, those Canadian wolves were now the same species as those that used to exist in their destination areas.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 16, 2004 12:06 PM


It is irrelevant.


Who did the redefining?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 16, 2004 12:08 PM

I remember a conversation about a decade ago with the Yellowstone Park Archivist/Historian describing how he went back through all sorts of old musty boxes from Mammoth to Denver to Harper's Ferry to Washington City to gather the necessary data to prove the YNP/Canadian equivalance. (Our tax dollars at work.) He mentioned the change, and I never checked it out further. To be honest, I try to avoid the politics of "charismatic megafauna" (Wolves, bears, bison , and elk.) other than to marvel at subjectivity that goes on. He sure was proud of his little contribution into "reestablishing wolves" in that park, but then again, he's one of the worst of the "bleed green" types.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 16, 2004 1:35 PM


Thanks. Your comment does highlight the difficulty behind proving the technical definition of species, since to do so definitively requires a cartesian product of all species.

So what ends up happening is a combination of farmer's common sense (ducks and hawks together just don't make parents) with more conclusive investigations where it looks close.

Always, of course, subject to modification as political exigencies require.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 16, 2004 5:19 PM

One solid sign of speciation is if the two potential species have enough DNA differences so they are not interfertile or only borderline interfertile (producing only mules).

Where things get blurry is when you have two "groups" that are interfertile (technically subspecies) but whose behaviors and mating customs/triggers are different enough that they do not mate at all -- they can crossbreed, but never do under natural conditions.

One of Gould's essays also describes cases where subspecies were artifacts of the Linnean system of taxonomy (classifications and definitions), describing separate subspecies as "legal classifications" of what was a spectrum of local variations (whose widely-separated extreme ends were very distinct). Like a spectrum -- in a rainbow, where does one color end and the next begin? Or like legal definitions -- how many hairs constitute a beard? Or what age constitutes adulthood?

Posted by: Ken at November 16, 2004 6:06 PM


That's an invented version of speciation to try and explain away the lack of any real speciation. Even still it's bogus--they can breed if they need to.

Posted by: oj at November 16, 2004 7:05 PM


Irrelevant? You've been sqwuaking about the extinction of the spotted by the barred as an imminent Darwinian event for a couple weeks and now the fact they aren't even separate species is irrelevant? Man, you really are brainwashed.

Posted by: oj at November 16, 2004 7:46 PM


Of course it's arbitrary, have to keep it flexible enough to pretend that speciation has occurred.

Posted by: oj at November 16, 2004 7:47 PM

The Eco-Freakos are trying to prove that the Salmon in each river in the east and the west are separate species. Problem is all of the rivers have been stocked with hatchery fish, and they are all prety much the same. The way fish tell which river is theirs is by smell.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at November 16, 2004 9:10 PM


The cause has nothing to do with the outcome, that is why it is irrelevant. The two animals are competing for space. That is what is relevant.

Also, you, as is your habit, completely misstate my position. I haven't said humans have nothing to do with it, only that it is unknown whether human have anything to do with it.

Making your comment completely irrelevant.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 17, 2004 7:03 AM

Why are they competing for space?

Posted by: oj at November 17, 2004 8:33 AM

Because one population is expanding, causing it to move outside its original range.

Or its original range is shrinking for any number of reasons, including human activity.

Or it is facing pressure in its niche from another species elsewhere in the range.

Or its prey animal is expanding its range.

Who knows?

What does matter is the cause is irrelevant.

Whatever the reason--and there are plenty--for two species (or distinct populations of the same species) to be competing within the same niche, one is going to ultimately lose.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 17, 2004 2:17 PM

We're causing it, as we cause all such extinctions, or, in thise case, hybridizations. It's Intelligent Design.

Posted by: oj at November 17, 2004 2:30 PM

Except for all the millions of extinctions preceding us.

But don't let that little fact bother you.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 18, 2004 6:22 AM

Yes, those come from some intervening event.

Posted by: oj at November 18, 2004 7:15 AM