Early this year, the ornithological world was rocked when Frank Rheindt and colleagues published a paper in which they described five entirely new species of birds, and five new subspecies of birds, all from several small islands near Sulawesi, Indonesia (Rheindt et al. 2020). While new species of birds are described almost every year, the sheer number of taxa described from this six-week expedition shocked and delighted the world.
The authors targeted these islands because of their unique geologic history: they are separated from the mainland by very deep water, which means that even during previous cycles of glaciation when water levels dropped by up to 120 meters, they remained isolated, preventing gene flow.
In addition to focusing on islands with a long history of isolation, the authors also tried to find islands that were generally poorly known and had never been thoroughly explored by ornithologists. While these islands had not been extensively surveyed, many of the taxa that were formally described to science earlier this year have been known to exist for some time. In fact, most of the newly described species have been in eBird for at least 4 years, with the label ‘undescribed taxon,’ based on information from the Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago (Eaton et al. 2016) field guide. This means that for 3 of the 5 newly described species, there are already observational data, and even media for some, in eBird that can help us to understand and protect them.
These new taxa have not yet been evaluated by BirdLife International to assess their conservation status, but Rheindt et al. (2020) note that all face threats. In particular, the Taliabu Grasshopper-Warbler is extremely limited in its distribution and has likely experienced severe reduction in habitat through logging and burning. Rheindt et al. (2020) suggest that all of these new taxa require immediate conservation action to ensure that they persist long into the future.
These five new species, along with the five new subspecies, will be added to Birds of the World following the next update to the Clements Checklist.
The newly described species include the following (click to view eBird observations):
The newly described subspecies include the following:
Eaton, J.A., B. van Balen, N.W. Brickle, and F.E. Rheindt. 2016. Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago: Greater Sundas and Wallacea. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Rheindt, F.E., D.M. Prawiradilaga, H. Ashari, Suparno, C.Y. Gwee, G.W.X. Lee, M.Y. Wu, and N.S.R. Ng. 2020. A lost world in Wallacea: description of a montane archipelagic avifauna. Science, 367: 167-170