Song experiments reveal many possible new tropical bird species

Main report: Song experiments reveal 21 possible new tropical bird species
(EurekAlert!)
Other Reporting: Environmental News Network
Scientific Paper: The Auk: Ornithological Advances   
Categories: Birds | Evolution | Science News | Species Discovery
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Researchers from the University of British Columbia and Cornell University compared two methods–analysis in the lab and experiments in the field–for 72 pairs of related but geographically separated bird populations in Costa Rica, Panama, and Ecuador.  The new study shows that pairs of birds that failed to recognize each other are currently categorized as members of the same species, suggesting that current taxonomy does not reflect actual bird behavior when it comes to song.  The researchers propose that 21 such pairs should be recognized as separate species based on song discrimination and that playback experiments should be the standard for assessing whether song divergence between populations is a barrier to interbreeding. “It is abundantly clear to anyone familiar with the amazing diversity of Neotropical birds that there are many cases where populations that sing very different songs are classified as the same species,” says author Benjamin Freeman. “These populations look the same–they have similar plumage and are similar in size and shape–but assuming that populations that sing differently tend not to interbreed, this means that species-level diversity in the Neotropics is underestimated.”

Photo: B. Freeman

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