For keen wildlife watchers, well-organised professional bird tours provide the opportunity to travel to a host of exotic destinations around the world to experience sightings of rare and endemic avian species in their natural habitat. Anyone planning on joining one of the bird tours to Africa may be interested to learn of three newly documented species recently discovered in Ghana and the Republic of Congo. |
Three New Species
An American research team working in Africa, headed by Dr Gary Voelker, confirmed the discovery in 2016 of three very similar birds that, while living in close proximity to each other, do not actually share any genetic similarities. Dr Voelker said the findings were particularly important and exciting because it was previously considered that Afrotropical forests were "static places where little evolutionary diversification has occurred." The thinking that in this kind of environment birds that looked similar and existed in the same habitat were likely to be the same species is now under question, leaving the door open for potentially more new species to be discovered in the future. Dr Voelker went even further, to say that the lack of documented diversity of avian species in the lowland forests of Africa is likely due more to a dearth of specimens than an actual absence of variation.
The discovery of the new species, and the shift in researchers' thinking, also means that while previously there has been very little in the way of DNA sampling (or access to only very old specimens), the American team has been able to add substantially to the specimen collections of museums.
Newest Members of Genus Stiphrornis
The newly classified species are forest robins from the genus Stiphrornis.
• Stiphrornis inexpectatus: the Ghana Forest Robin, found in the central and southern regions of Ghana.
• Stiphrornis dahomeyensis: the Dahomey Forest Robin found in central Ghana and Benin (West Africa).
• Stiphrornis rudderi: the Rudder's Forest Robin found around the Congo River near Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Genetic and Physical Differences
Where the species are found is of particular interest to researchers, according to Dr Voelker. While all three share a superficially similar physical appearance, the two Ghanaian species live close to each other in a region that does not, in itself, have significant geographical differences. (Adaptation to habitat is the most common evolutionary signpost to the divergence and formation of a new species.)
When examined closely in the wild, and by studying museum specimens, scientists determined that the three species do not share any genetic makeup and, in fact, descend from three different lineages. They also have a number of clear physical differences, including plumage, wing length and tail length, and also distinctions in their individual songs.
Biodiversity Aids Conservation
Researchers say that discoveries like the new Stiphrornis species play a vital role in affording conservationists the scientific information and tools required to identify regions with the highest levels of biodiversity - and, consequently, the species and habitats at greatest risk. Professional Bird Tours to Africa For keen amateur birders, organised bird tours to Africa provide an outstanding opportunity to explore the rich, exotic wildlife habitats in countries like Ghana, Kenya and many others they may otherwise have thought were out of reach.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in bird watching. As a passionate lover of birds, Marissa chooses the expert-led bird tours organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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