Pitman and Jehl (1998) recently argued that Masked Boobies (formerly Sula dactylatra granti) breeding on the Nazca Plate in the eastern Pacific Ocean are morphologically and ecologically distinct from other Masked Boobies and may represent a full species. The American Ornithologists' Union subsequently elevated that subspecies to a full species: the Nazca Booby (S. granti). To evaluate that change in classification, we compared sequence variation in the mitochondrial cytochrome-b gene among 75 Nazca Boobies and 37 Masked Boobies representing three subspecies from the central and eastern Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Results indicated strong differentiation of cytochrome-b variation among taxa. Sequences constituted three distinct groups: Nazca Boobies, Masked Boobies from the central and eastern Pacific (S. d. personata and S. d. californica), and Masked Boobies (S. d. dactylatra) from the Caribbean and Atlantic. Those three groups probably diverged within a very short period, 400,000–500,000 years ago. Our results support the proposal that S. granti represents a distinct species.
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Vol. 119 • No. 3