Redefining the taxonomy of the all-black and pied boubous (Laniarius spp.) in coastal Kenya and Somalia

Following the rediscovery of a form of Laniarius on Manda Island, Kenya, which had been treated as a melanistic morph of Tropical Boubou Laniarius aethiopicus for some 70 years, a detailed field study strongly indicated that it was wrongly assigned. Molecular examination proved that it is the same species as L. (aethiopicus) erlangeri, until now considered a Somali endemic, and these populations should take the oldest available name L. nigerrimus. The overall classification of coastal boubous also proved to require revision, and this paper presents a preliminary new classification for taxa in this region using both genetic and morphological data. Genetic evidence revealed that the coastal ally of L. aethiopicus, recently considered specifically as L. sublacteus, comprises two unrelated forms, requiring a future detailed study. The black-and-white boubous—characteristic birds of Africa’s savanna and wooded regions—have been treated as subspecies of the highly polytypic Laniarius ferrugineus (Rand 1960), or subdivided, by separating Southern Boubou L. ferrugineus, Swamp Boubou L. bicolor and Turati’s Boubou L. turatii from the widespread and geographically variable Tropical Boubou L. aethiopicus (Hall & Moreau 1970, Fry et al. 2000, Harris & Franklin 2000). They are generally pied, with black upperparts, white or pale buff underparts, and in most populations a white wing-stripe. However, the all-black birds inhabiting bushy savanna in northern Kenya and southern Somalia have long been considered as rare morphs of Tropical Boubous in the same areas. Using molecular phylogenetic data for all relevant populations, our aim here is to clarify the relationships of these birds.