Evolution and systematics

In 1766, Linnaeus named two species of white-eye, but in early years they were variously placed within wagtails (Motacilla), northern treecreepers (Certhia), flycatchers (MuscĂ­capa), warblers (Sylvia), and flowerpeckers (Dicaeum). In 1826 Vigors and Horsfield created a new genus, Zosterops, for those species with a white eye-ring; and Gadow, who figured the tongue of an Australian species (Z. lateralis), placed the genus in Meliphagidae (honeyeaters) because of the brush-tipped tongue. In 1891 Sharpe elevated it to Zosteropidae, on the mistaken grounds that the tongue of Zosterops resembled that of a tit (Parus) and that it had no similarity to the brush tongue of Meliphagidae. In 1888 Newton also separated them as a single family. Recent molecular work places Zosteropidae under a passerine superfamily Sylvioidea and includes in this family the Endangered golden white-eye, Cleptornis marchel, of Mariana Islands and the Bonin white-eye, Apalopteron fa-miliare, of Ogasawara Islands, which had been placed under Meliphagidae (honeyeaters) previously.

Those with a white eye-ring, from which the English name white-eye, the German name Brillenvogel (spectacle-bird), and the genus name Zosterops are derived, consist of four African continental, two Gulf of Guinea island, seven Indian Ocean island, and 49 Asia-Pacific species. This forms an extraordinarily uniform genus. For example, the Madagascar white-eye, Zosterops maderaspatanus, is almost indistinguishable from the New Guinea white-eye, Z. novaeguineae; the Annobon white-eye of Gulf of Guinea, Z. griseovirescens, is very similar to the Christmas Island white-eye from south of Java, Z. na-

talis; and the Australian yellow white-eye, Z. luteus, has the same plumage color as the East African subspecies of the white-breasted white-eye, Z. abyssinicus flavilateralis. Indeed, the relationships between the African and Asian species of Zosterops are yet to be clarified.

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