10 New Species And Subspecies Of Songbird Found In The "Lost World" Of Wallacea

Hill forest in Peleng. Philippe Verbelen

Even in an age of satellites and droned-mounted cameras, many parts of our precious planet still remain unexplored. 

Deep in the “lost world” of Wallacea, researchers have discovered 10 new species and subspecies of songbird.

Reporting their findings in the journal Science, a recent project set out to document the birds living on a trio of Wallacean islands, a tropical archipelago off the eastern Indonesian coast. During a six-week expedition to the remote islands of Taliabu, Peleng, and Batudaka, Frank Rheindt and colleagues documented the combined discovery of five new songbird species and five new subspecies.

The Wallacea islands are named after Alfred Russel Wallace, a British naturalist famed for independently developing a theory of evolution through natural selection at the same time as Charles Darwin. Much like Darwin's relationship with the Galapagos Islands, Wallace saw these islands as a "living laboratory" for the study of evolution, packed full of diverse and unusual wildlife to inspire his theories of natural selection. 

“Wallacea is an archipelago that lies at the nexus between two major biogeographic zones, the Oriental Region – South and Southeast Asia, famous for its tigers, orang-utans – and the Australasian Region – famous for its marsupials,” Frank Rheindt, lead author and associate professor at the National University of Singapore, told IFLScience. 

“Its fauna is a composite of both Asian and Australo-Papuan species, and it is one of the most under-explored parts of the world.”

The Taliabu grasshopper-warbler and the Togian jungle-flycatcher. James Eaton/Birdtour Asia

Although Wallace’s expedition, along with many more recent Indonesian expeditions, managed to catalog a fair amount of the islands’ biodiversity, many of these islands remain relatively unexplored.

The names of the newly described species include the Peleng fantail, the Peleng leaf-warbler, the Taliabu grasshopper warbler, the Taliabu myzomela, and the Taliabu leaf-warbler. 

Unfortunately, although perhaps unsurprisingly, many of these birds are under threat. Two of the islands, Taliabu and Peleng, have suffered from rampant forest destruction in recent decades. One of the birds, the Taliabu grasshopper warbler, is of particular concern as its habitat on the mountain tops of Taliabu may have shrunk to a few square kilometers following extensive logging in the 1990s.

Rheindt concluded by noting that these new findings highlight our responsibility to take care of the natural world and its many inhabitants. 

“The year 2019 has demonstrated that we have entered a serious stage in the current environmental crisis afflicting our planet," he explained. "We will be losing a lot of biodiversity in the decades to come. In order to make smart decisions about where to invest the limited conservation resources we have, we must first know where our biodiversity resides.

“In this 21st century, our planet needs a resurgence in biodiversity discovery.”

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