August 7, 2012

New Bird Species Discovered In ‘Cloud Forest’ Of Peru

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

During a 2008 expedition to the remote Peruvian Andes, a group of young ornithologists discovered a rare treat; a colorful, fruit-eating bird with a black mask, pale belly, and deep scarlet breast that had never before been described by science.

The team of explorers, led by Michael G. Harvey, Glenn Seeholzer and Ben Winger, all recent graduates from Cornell, were accompanied by Daniel Cáceres, a graduate of the Universidad Nacional de San Agustín in Arequipa, Peru, and local Ashéninka guides. The Ashéninka are a tribe of indigenous peoples who live in the jungles of Peru. The team discovered the bird on a ridge of montane cloud forest in the Cerros del Sira range of the eastern Andes. Steep ridges and deep river gorges in this region produce many isolated habitats and microclimates that give rise to uniquely evolved species.

A cloud forest, also known as a fog forest, is a generally tropical or subtropical evergreen montane moist forest characterized by a persistent, frequent or seasonal low-level cloud cover, usually at the canopy level. Cloud forests often exhibit an abundance of mosses covering the ground and vegetation.

The Sira Barbet, as the bird was named, is clearly a sister species to the Scarlet-Banded Barbet, but is readily distinguished by differences in color on the bird's flanks, lower back and thighs, and a wider, darker scarlet breast band. In the July 2012 issue of The Auk, the official publication of the American Ornithologists' Union, the team published a paper explaining that they compared mitochondrial DNA sequences of  the new Sira Barbet to it's close cousins in the genus Capito and secured genetic evidence that this is a new and unreported species in the barbet famly. The genetic work was performed at The Field Museum of Chicago, by co-author Jason Weckstein.

The team chose the scientific name of the new species Capito fitzpatricki in honor of Cornell Lab of Ornithology executive director John W. Fitzpatrick, who discovered and named seven new bird species in Peru during the 1970s and '80s.

"Fitz has inspired generations of young ornithologists in scientific discovery and conservation," said Winger. "He was behind us all the way when we presented our plan for this expedition."