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Hiding In Plain Sight: New Birds and Bats

Posted by: Loren Coleman on February 19th, 2007

Reuters is reporting via a report from Environment Correspondent Alister Doyle that new birds and new bats have been discovered through new DNA analyses. It is being widely reprinted in many sources, but this is one of the best summaries I’ve found today, specifically on the bird discoveries:

Genetic tests of North American birds show what may be 15 new species including ravens and owls — look alikes that do not interbreed and have wrongly had the same name for centuries, scientists said on Sunday.

If the findings from a study of birds’ DNA genetic “barcodes” in the United States and Canada hold true around the world, there might be more than 1,000 new species of birds on top of 10,000 identified so far, they said.

A parallel study of South American bats in Guyana also showed six new species among 87 surveyed, hinting that human studies of the defining characteristics of species may have been too superficial to tell almost identical types apart.

“This is the leading tip of a process that will see the genetic registration of life on the planet,” said Paul Hebert of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, a co-author of the report in the British Journal Molecular Ecology Notes.

“You can’t protect biodiversity if you can’t recognize it.”

The scientists found 15 potential new species among 643 types of bird studied from the Arctic to Florida. The sample covers almost all 690 known breeding species in North America.

“North American birds are among the best studied in the world,” said co-author Mark Stoeckle of the Rockefeller University in New York. “Even in a group where people have been looking very carefully there are genetically different forms that appear to be new species.”

Look alike species were of the Northern Fulmar, Solitary Sandpiper, Western Screech Owl, Warbling Vireo, Mexican Jay, Western Scrub-Jay, Common Raven, Mountain Chickadee, Bushtit, Winter Wren, Marsh Wren, Bewick’s Wren, Hermit Thrush, Curve Billed Thrasher and Eastern Meadowlark.

“It would be a reasonable guess that there are likely to be at least 1,000 genetically distinct forms of birds (worldwide) that will be recognised as new species,” Stoeckle said.

The genetic tests, for instance of a feather, give a readout of a “barcode” for each creature similar to the black and white parallel lines on packages at supermarkets.

They said DNA diverged by at least 2.5 percent — enough, they said, to define a species despite almost identical shape, plumage and song. A one percent difference typically indicated a million years without interbreeding, they said.

The study also found 14 pairs of birds with separate identities that were almost genetic “twins,” two trios of birds were DNA triplets and eight gull species were almost identical.

“Some of these on close inspection may really be better considered as a single species,” said Stoeckle. “Others are probably very young species at the borderline.”

The Snow Goose and Ross’s Goose, for instance, shared 99.8 percent of DNA and the black-billed magpie and the yellow-billed magpie 99.6 percent. Gulls such as the Glaucous and Iceland Gulls were 99.8 percent the same.

The scientists said there was no clear scientific definition of a species — inability to interbreed was often favored.

“But that’s difficult — we’re not watching bats mate in caves, we’re not often watching small life forms,” Hebert said.

The scientists are hoping to raise $100 million to compile a barcode of life — 10 million DNA records of 500,000 animal species by 2014.

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


2 Responses to “Hiding In Plain Sight: New Birds and Bats”

  1. kittenz responds:

    When it comes to taxonomy I am more of a lumper than a splitter, so I don’t necessarily agree that all these animals are actually separate species and not just local races or subspecies.

    But if reclassifying a threatened race or subspecies as a separate species will result in better official protection to ensure its survival, I’m all for it.

  2. DWA responds:

    It’s all just people, categorizin’.

    There were once a few dozen species of grizzly bear – in Alaska. Now the Gobi bear, the Yezo bear, the horse bear, the Kodiak bear and the griz are all one.

    But wait! Those two ravens over there are DIFFERENT SPECIES!

    We’re the ultimate cryptid, I tell you.



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