Two New Species Declared in the Galápagos, One May Already Be Extinct

Scientists have declared two new songbird species in the Galápagos Islands but one species may already be extinct. If the bird is truly extinct, conservation efforts are urgently needed to protect the biodiversity of the islands. The findings are in a paper just published in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.

Vermilion Flycatchers are small, colorful songbirds found in North and South America, as well as the Galápagos Islands. Many of the Galápagos varieties are unique to the area and have previously been categorized as subspecies. Two of these subspecies have different songs and behavior patterns, leading some scientists to propose reclassifying them as entirely separate species.

Researchers from San Francisco State University, the University of New Mexico, and the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory collaborated to perform a molecular phylogenetic analysis of Vermilion Flycatcher subspecies. They used a large collection of preserved birds from the California Academy of Sciences to conduct their genetic analysis. Based on genetic data and observational reports, the team determined two known subspecies to actually be separate species. One of these species, the tiny San Cristóbal Island Vermilion Flycatcher, hasn’t been spotted since 1987.

If the San Cristóbal Island Vermilion Flycatcher is extinct, the ecosystem of the Galápagos Islands may be in trouble. The islands, known for their extraordinary biodiversity, are vulnerable to climate change and invasive species. Two invasive pests, rats and parasitic flies, wreak havoc on local bird populations. Rats steal and consume eggs from nests while the flies target young chicks.

The authors recommend that efforts are made to determine whether or not the San Cristóbal Island Vermilion Flycatcher is truly extinct. The team also believes that a conservation plan should be formed to protect the unique ecosystem of the Galápagos Islands. The islands have so much biodiversity that Charles Darwin famously wrote about them in his notes. Conservationists need to take action now to preserve the remaining species.

REFERENCE

Ore Carmi et al. Phylogeography of the Vermilion Flycatcher species complex: Multiple speciation events, shifts in migratory behavior, and an apparent extinction of a Galápagos-endemic bird species. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution (2016).

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