BirdLife: The Magazine Jan-Mar 2018 - Page 38

Solving the world’s great bird mysteries Keen-eyed readers will note that we ‘lost’ a species in the 2017 Red List update – the Liberian Greenbul is no longer recognised as a valid species by BirdLife. But mourn not its loss: this is simply the latest in a long line of taxonomic avian mysteries to have been solved… James Lowen T hey make a wacky bunch. A squashed Ethiopian nightjar from which only a single wing could be retrieved. An Andean hummingbird known solely from a single skin bought in a Bogota market. An African shrike kept captive in Germany to prove its existence and spare its demise. A Madagascar ‘vanga’ that actually belonged to a separate bird family altogether. A Brazilian seedeater that ‘existed’ for two centuries before its true identity was fathomed. And a greenbul from Liberia revealed by the 2017 Red List to be a species that never was. At one time or another, this sextet has featured on a shortlist of the world’s greatest bird- taxonomy mysteries. Several of the conundrums represented by these creatures have now been solved. Others remain avian enigmas, frustrating our understanding and confusing decisions on whether, how and where to conserve them. Given that species are the fundamental unit of conservation, this matters. Accurately determining what constitutes a true species is the key to astute allocation of conservation resources. If an apparently valid species transpires to be a morph or hybrid, conservationists risk 38 having invested inadvisably. Conversely, if a valid species is overlooked or dismissed, we may have squandered opportunities to safeguard it. one Brazilian seedeater ‘existed’ for two centuries before its true identity was fathomed The 2017 Red List update clears up one notorious mystery. Formerly considered Data Deficient, Liberian Greenbul Phyllastrephus leucolepis has been reclassified as ‘N Xۚ\Y8&H ܋[\ܙ[[[YXY\K\ݙ\Y[NN H[X\Xx&\][Hܙ\ ܙY[[\B؜\Y\[ۘ[HHZ\[\ݙ\B\HوYHYX\)]]\Y[YZ[\[YYY[\ ܛY\B\Yx&\ؘ[[\ܝ[\\XB[ܙ[]܋H[\Y]X\X[ܙY[[Y\YHHY\XYX\[BܙY[[[\\\X\[\ۛH[^X][]\ۈ][ˈZY\K\]\Y [\H[]H[X\[[XYO8'HXوX\]Y[Y[˜[]\HXYHۙHۙ\'KHX[˂H]\Z[Y\[Y[^Y][ۈ][Hܙ\8$]Z[Y[[HܙY[[]Y[ˈY]\HHYHXY\]\X\YH^[ Y]\HHYB\YH8([SX\ NHQT