Convergent Evidence Splits Birds-of-Paradise

The Birds-of-Paradise is one of the most spectacular animals on the planet, with mind bending coloration that is displayed in the male’s courtship dance.

Superb Bird-of-Paradise Lophorina superba © Tim Laman ML 62128001

The rugged and complicated terrain of New Guinea and nearby has produced amazing variety of life, with many species living in a small geographical range. In the case of the Bird-of-Paradise, there are a chain of populations along the island. Are these all the same species?

This summer has seen simultaneous reports of behavioral and genetic evidence that show there are two distinct species (in the Western and Eastern areas).

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a Birds-of-Paradise Project (!) that has been observing the animals in the wild. This isn’t easy to do in the dense and remote forests, buy in 2016 they were able to observe the mating dance of the western population in the Arfak Mountain. They discovered that the similar looking birds have a noticeably different display, and a different dance from the more common species in the East [1].

At the same time, Martin Irestedt and colleagues have published DNA analysis taken from museum specimens [2]. Their study finds a similar genetic distinction between the two populations.

The timing of this DNA-based study is perfect,” said Ed Scholes, “because it is great to have our field observations supported by solid genetic evidence. We really appreciate this in-depth study of the evolutionary relationships among the different forms of Superb Bird-of-Paradise.

This is a nice bit of science, with two lines of evidence converging to support the conclusion.


  1. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Dance Moves Support Evidence for New Bird-of-Paradise Species. 2017, https://www.macaulaylibrary.org/2017/06/30/dance-moves-support-evidence-for-new-bird-of-paradise-species/.
  2. Martin Irestedt, Henrique Batalha-Filho, Per G. P. Ericson FLS, Les Christidis, and Richard Schodde, Phylogeny, biogeography and taxonomic consequences in a bird-of-paradise species complex, Lophorina–Ptiloris (Aves: Paradisaeidae). . Zoologial Journal of the Linnean Society, 2017. https://academic.oup.com/zoolinnean/article-abstract/doi/10.1093/zoolinnean/zlx004/3884406/Phylogeny-biogeography-and-taxonomic-consequences?redirectedFrom=fulltext

 

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