The Number of Albatross (Diomedeidae) Species

John Penhallurick*
86 Bingley Cres., FRASER, A.C.T. 2615, Australia

© 2012 John Penhallurick

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the 86 Bingley Cres., FRASER, A.C.T. 2615, Australia; Tel: (612) 62585428; E-mails:


The basis of the widespread practice of recent years to recognise 23 or 24 species of albatross is critically ex-amined. In large part this can be traced back to an analysis which split the traditional species of albatross on the basis of theoretical fiat: the embrace of the narrow Phylogenetic Species Concept. The role of conservation concerns in albatross taxonomy is examined and rejected. Claims that introgression is likely to explain the low cytochrome-b distance found be-tween many “new” albatross species are rejected. An analysis of climatic conditions at albatross breeding colonies can ex-plain plumage differences in the ontogeny of albatross taxa, and plumage colouration can be related to differing environ-mental pressures. It is concluded that the variation among taxa within albatross taxa is ecophenotypic. Finally, it is sug-gested that a plausible mechanism for such variation can be found in epigenetics.

Keywords: Albatrosses, taxonomy, ontogeny, ecophenotypic variation, epigenetics, suggested.