Extremely Rare Songbird May Never Have Existed

Posted: Oct 8 2017, 11:47am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Extremely Rare Songbird may never have Existed
Credit: University of Aberdeen

DNA analysis suggests that exlusive songbird Liberian Greenbul likely never existed in the first place

A songbird species thought to be extremely exclusive turns out to have never existed at all. Researchers discovered this fact based on the genetic evidence.

The Liberian Greenbul, scientifically known as Phyllastrephus leucolepis, has baffled researchers for decades. The bird was originally discovered in the forest of a West African country in the early 1980s but it was rarely sighted since then. It was seen on nine occasions between 1981 and 1984 in the Cavalla Forest in Eastern Liberia and was described as an entirely new species, based on the individual captured in 1984. Despite an intensive search for this species, no further specimens have been found for the next three decades.

The only specimen that exists is distinguished from its commonly found relative Icterine Greenbul by the unusual white spots on its feathers. It is one of the most poorly understood bird species in the world and was listed as Critically Endangered up until last year.

Now, researchers who have analyzed the DNA of Icterine and Liberian Greenbuls have found there was no significant genetic difference between the two. Liberian Greenbul is not a separate, distinctive species. It is most likely a variant of Icterine Greenbul species having a different feather pattern. The finding suggests that both birds belong to same species.

"The Liberian Greenbul has gained almost 'mythical' status since it was sighted in the '80s,” said Professor Martin Collinson, a geneticist from the University of Aberdeen's Institute of Medical Sciences.

“We can’t say definitely that the Liberian Greenbul is the same bird as the Iceterine Greenbul but we have presented enough evidence that makes any other explanation seem highly unlikely. The genetic work was performed independently by scientists here in Aberdeen and in Dresden to make sure there could be no error – we both came to the same conclusion.”

This study reflects how useful the DNA testing can be. The technique can not only help identify new species, but it can also help eliminate previously described species which did not actually exist, as in this case.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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