New Bird Species Picked Out by its Eyes


Newly-discovered Laniarius willardi had been noted as an anomaly among Malaconotidae (pictured) for years. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

One small branch of the bird kingdom's species tree has sprouted a new bud. Researchers from Texas A&M; University believe they have found a new species of shrike living amongst the more common Malaconotidae. The new species, labeled Laniarius willardi, was picked out from the crowd by its unique blue-gray eyes.Gary Voelker, who made the discovery, commented that the bird is "probably at least a couple million years; it's old, but it's new to science at least in the DNA age." He added:

Clearly, it was noticed before, because as we started to look at comparative material from other natural history collections, we saw that several specimens collected in 1910 were noted to have had gray eyes...but it apparently never occurred to those collectors that their find was potentially something different than other black shrikes that might have been collected in the same basic region.

It was conversations he had with colleagues over the last several years, he said, that led him to make note of the bird's eyes.

Such discoveries, he pointed out, are rare in Africa. Most new bird species are found in South America. Voelker attributed this find to the lack of DNA research that has been conducted on species of central Africa's rainforests.

To define the new species, Voelker analyzed specimens that had been collected years earlier. The bird, which is thought to occupy a narrow band of forest, is replaced by another very similar species of shrike outside of its limited habitat. Given the rate of deforestation in Africa, Voelker said, it is likely that Laniarius willardi is extremely threatened.

He explained:

The discovery of this new species clearly illustrates that scientific collecting still has an important role to play in efforts to document and understand biodiversity in Africa and other understudied areas...these and future results from our ongoing work in various parts of Africa should have an impact on conservation strategies now and in the future.

Unfortunately, like so many newly discovered species, Laniarius willardi may be extinct before scientists have a chance to study it.

Read more about new species:
Best and Worst of 2009: Wild and Weird New Species Discovered in 2009 (Slideshow)
94 New Species Described by the California Academy of Sciences in 2009
Birdfeeders Found to Cause Evolution of New Species
New Species Discovered Thanks to Vomiting Snake

Tags: Animals | Birds | Conservation