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  • The Wakatobi white-eye and the Wangi-Wangi white-eye.

    The Wakatobi white-eye and the Wangi-Wangi white-eye. | Photo: Trinity College Dublin

Published 26 April 2019
Opinion

Researchers hope that the new discoveries will help conservation groups that are advocating for the Wakatobi Islands to be classified as an Endemic Bird Area. 

Two species of bird, the Wakatobi white-eye and the Wangi-Wangi white-eye, have newly been discovered in the Wakatobi Archipelago southeast of Sulawesi, Indonesia.

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The research conducted by zoologists from the Trinity College Dublin and Halu Oleo University in Sulawesi was published, on April 24, in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. The study of birds on the Indonesian island, by the scientists, was sponsored by the research expedition organization Operation Wallacea over the course of 20 years.

The discovery of the new additions could potentially uncover more information on the evolution of other species of white-eye birds. Sulawesi's biogeographic development is unique, as it lies extremely close to a line drawn along the Makassar Strait in the 19th Century by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. 

The western side of the archipelago contains species of Asian origins, while the eastern side contains species of Australian origins. Sulawesi lies on the eastern side but very close to Wallace's line. Wallace identified the island as "the anomalous island" as it comprises species of both Asian and Australian origins.

The blurred lines of the new species' long-term geographic lineage have made classifying them difficult, but not impossible. Bird experts say this is common as birds are able to migrate easily, creating new populations. Observing characteristics, like body size, genetics, and songs of the birds will determine which bird groups evolved into new species.

While the Wakatobi white-eye had been identified by scientists years ago, it has only recently been classified as its own species. The Wangi-Wangi white-eye has been found recently, over 3,000 miles from its closest relatives.

The Wangi-Wangi white-eye is also found on only one island, making it vulnerable to habitat loss.

Researchers hope that the new discoveries will help conservation groups that are advocating for the Wakatobi Islands to be classified as an Endemic Bird Area. The classification would guarantee added support and protection for the region.

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