Barlow's Lark: a new species in the Karoo Lark Certhilauda albescens complex of southwest Africa




The Karoo Lark Certhilauda albescens complex, endemic to southwest Africa, is characterized by regional phenotypic variation. Recent consensus has been to recognize two species, Dune Lark Certhilauda erythrochlamys and Karoo Lark Certhilauda albescens, but intermediate forms around the mouth of the Orange River have resulted in some authors treating it as a single polytypic species complex. We reexamined the status of taxa in this group by sequencing a segment of the mitochondrial DNA cytochrome b gene. Most samples were from the area around the mouth of the Orange River, where there is considerable local phenotypic variation. Our results indicate that the complex comprises three species, Karoo Lark, Dune Lark and Barlow's Lark Certhilauda barlowi, separated by 1.9-5.5% sequence divergence. There were no sequence differences among described subspecies, but there was limited variation among Dune Lark individuals (sequence divergence values 0.2-0.4%). The Red Lark Certhilauda burra is closely related to the Karoo Lark complex; indeed, it may be that Karoo Lark is the ancestral form. There was morphological (biometrics and plumage) and behavioural (male display song structure) support for the recognition of Barlow's Lark as a separate species. Species ranges within the complex are allopatric or narrowly parapatric, and they occur in different habitats and climatic conditions. Discriminant function analysis correctly identified 99% of skins assigned to taxa based on range, but a few individuals collected in the contact zone between Karoo and Barlow's Larks exhibited intermediate phenotypes, and further investigations are warranted to search for evidence of hybridization. The newly recognized Barlow's Lark has a maximum range of 18,000 km2. It appears to have disappeared from heavily grazed farms around Aus, southern Namibia, and occurs almost exclusively in diamond mining areas, where domestic livestock are excluded. Changes to land use practices which reduce vegetation cover could seriously impact this species.