BasraReedWarblergate

Published on 06 May 2015 in News and comment

An intriguing case of what appears to be modern-day ornithological fraud has come to light, involving one of the Western Palearctic’s least-known birds, the Basra Reed Warbler Acrocephalus griseldis. A paper published in the Taylor & Francis journal Zoology in the Middle East (Al-Sheikhly et al. 2013), based on a study in Iraq and carried out mostly in 2006 and 2007, made a number of claims about the species’ breeding biology which, on closer examination, simply didn’t stack up. The figures and conclusions (for example, it was claimed that over 40% of the 317 males studied were polygynous) were seemingly impossible to achieve without undertaking a long-term trapping and colour-ringing programme to allow identification of individual male and female birds. The authors claimed to have examined 971 nests over the study period, yet there was almost no mention of the methods and resources employed to gather the data. A recent letter highlighting the discrepancies (Porter et al. 2015), signed by 14 mainly British-based ornithologists and pulled together by BB trustee Richard Porter, has now been accepted and published by ZME; the effort involved in that was considerable, but the saga is essential reading for anyone seeking to learn more about this globally Endangered species. For further details, see the OSME website

 

Basra Reed Warbler at the nest, pic by Mudhafar Salim

Basra Reed Warbler at the nest, pic by Mudhafar Salim

Al-Sheikhly, O. F., Iyad, N., & Barbanera, F. 2013. Breeding ecology of the Basra Reed Warbler Acrocephalus griseldis in Iraq. Zoology in the Middle East 59: 107-117.

Porter, R., Batten, L., Burton, J., Collinson, J. M., Cowan, P., Kennerley, P., Kirwan, G. M., Newell, R. G., Pearson, D., Riddington, R., Salim, M., Sheldon, R., Scott, D., & Woodcock, M. 2015. Towards a better understanding of Basra Reed Warbler Acrocephalus griseldis (Aves: Passeriformes: Acrocephalidae) ecology? A comment on Al-Sheikhly et al. (2013), Zoology in the Middle East