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New bird species identified from its song, named after Salim Ali

Bengaluru, Jan 22, 2016, DHNS: 0:00 IST
The Himalayan Forest Thrush Zoothera salimalii was found by a group of researchers in the Himalayan forests in 2009.  DH PHOTO
A new bird species has been found in India and it has been named after India's noted ornithologist and conservationist Salim Ali.

The Himalayan Forest Thrush Zoothera salimalii was found by a group of researchers in the Himalayan forests in 2009. The researchers from India, along with those from China and Russia, studied the bird till 2015, before it was announced.

Shashank Dalvi, one of the researchers and alumnus of the Post Graduate Programme, Wildlife Biology and Conservation WCS - India Programme, told Deccan Herald, that he along with Dr Per Alstrom, found the bird for the first time in May-June, 2009, while studying birds at high elevations of Western Arunachal Pradesh. The bird is found from Darjeeling in West Bengal to China.

“The first time we saw the bird, we thought it was the Plain-backed Thrush, but after research, we found that this is different. The team of researchers collectively studied the DNA and morphology of the bird. The team found that this bird had two different types of songs. It was harsh and unmusical when on higher terrain and highly musical when on lower terrain,” he said.

Researchers therefore named this new species the Himalayan Forest Thrush Zoothera salimalii, which they found was different from the high-elevation “Plain-backed Thrush”, which was renamed as the Alpine Thrush. The Alpine Thrush retains the scientific name of Zoothera mollissima. The Himalayan Forest Thrush is locally common. It was overlooked till now because of its similarity in appearance to the Alpine Thrush.

Further analyses of plumage, structure, song, DNA and ecology from throughout the range of the “Plain-backed Thrush” revealed that a third species was present in central China. While this population was already known, it was treated as a subspecies of “Plain-backed Thrush”. The scientists have instead called it Sichuan Forest Thrush. The song of the Sichuan Forest Thrush was found to be even more musical than the song of the Himalayan Forest Thrush, Dalvi said.

DNA analyses suggested that these three species have been genetically separated for several million years. Genetic data from three old museum specimens indicated the presence of a fourth species from China that remains unnamed. Future field studies are required to confirm this, he added.

New bird species are rarely discovered nowadays. Since 2000, an average of five new species per year have been discovered globally, most of which are from South America. The Himalayan Forest Thrush is only the fourth new bird species discovered from India since 1947.

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