Several Beautiful New Bird Species Found on Remote Indonesian Islands

Black male sunbird. Credit: Nicola Marples and David Kelly, Trinity College Dublin.

Zoologists at Trinity College Dublin, in collaboration with a research team in Indonesia, have found several new species of colorful tropical birds.

Zoologists have identified a new species, the Wakatobi sunbird (Cinnyris infrenatus), which lives on the small Wakatobi Islands in central Indonesia. They also examined the more widespread Olive-backed Suimangas and Black Suimangas, and found that the individuals named so actually belonged to multiple unrecognized species.

In combination, these exciting findings have important implications for our understanding of evolution in this biodiverse region.

Living in the tropics from Africa to Australia, sunbirds resemble American hummingbirds and fill a similar ecological niche. Male sunbirds are often brightly plumaged, with iridescent or “metallic” feathers that shimmer in the sunlight.

For hundreds of years, zoologists have examined the plumage of sunbirds to name species, more than 140 of which are currently recognized. However, using new forms of evidence, including DNA, song recordings, and statistical analyzes of body measurements, zoologists have revealed that this family is even more diverse than previously thought.

This work was carried out jointly by researchers from Trinity College of Natural Sciences and Universitas Halu Oleo in Sulawesi, Indonesia, and has just been published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnaean Society. Fittingly, this journal was the first to publish the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace in 1858.

Several Beautiful New Bird Species Found on Remote Indonesian Islands

A male olive-backed suimanga. Credit: Nicola Marples and David Kelly, Trinity College Dublin.

The international research team followed in Wallace’s footsteps in more ways than one, basing their theories on their studies of animals on the islands of present-day Indonesia.

Fionn Ó Marcaigh, first author of the article and Ph.D. Candidate in Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, said: “One of Wallace’s major findings is known as the ‘Wallace Line’, a boundary between deep and shallow seas that many animals have been unable to cross, leading to marked differences in species found in The extensive Dorsolivaceous sunbird seemed to be an exception, occurring from China to Australia with the Wallace Line smack in the middle of its range.

“However, the new study has shown that the populations on both sides actually represent two different species, consistent with Wallace’s original predictions. The black sunbird was already known to be subject to Wallace’s Line, but the new Research has shown that the population around Sulawesi is a separate species from that in New Guinea.”

Despite this division, the dorsolivaceous suimanga covers a fairly wide range for such a small bird. The newly discovered Wakatobi sunbird, on the other hand, is restricted to the small Wakatobi Islands, off the coast of Sulawesi. Small, isolated islands like these have their own evolutionary processes, and these often produce unique species, as in the famous case of the Galapagos.

Previous work by the Trinity School of Natural Sciences identified two species of white-eyed birds from the same area, which has been recognized by international conservation organizations as a Key Biodiversity Area.

Several Beautiful New Bird Species Found on Remote Indonesian Islands

A male Wakatobi sunbird. Credit: Nicola Marples and David Kelly, Trinity College Dublin.

In addition to being genetically unique, the Wakatobi sunbird also has darker plumage, a higher-pitched song, and shorter wings than the olive-backed sunbird. Its short wings probably contributed to its remaining isolated on the Wakatobi Islands while the olive-backed sunbird undertook a long-distance colonization over the sea.

Fionn Ó Marcaigh added: “It is amazing that there are still species waiting to be found in this region, which has been important to evolutionary biology since the time of Wallace. I am delighted that we have added to the list of known species from this wonderful part of the world. world, it’s the kind of thing I dreamed of when I got interested in zoology as a kid. Also, this study has been a brilliant opportunity to build on classic work with new techniques. It’s especially fascinating when we find new discoveries that support the Wallace’s original predictions”.

Dr. David Kelly of Trinity University is the second author of the paper. He added: “The identification of the Wakatobi sunbird serves to remind us that biodiversity is everywhere. This bird was not found in a remote rainforest, but rather along the bush-covered fringes of busy cities and towns. Hopefully the children of Wakatobi to be able to enjoy these special birds for generations to come.

Zoologists discover two new species of birds in Indonesia

More information:
Fionn Ó Marcaigh et al, Small islands and large biogeographical barriers have driven contrasting speciation patterns in Indo-Pacific sunbirds (Aves: Nectariniidae), Zoological Journal of the Linnaean Society (2022). DOI: 10.1093/zoolinnean/zlac081

Provided by Trinity College Dublin

Citation: Several Beautiful New Bird Species Found on Remote Indonesian Islands (October 24, 2022) Retrieved October 24, 2022 at indonesian.html

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