Tag Archives: ornithology

Saving the white-shouldered ibis and a way of life in rural Cambodia

Only about 500 of the birds remain in the world,  making the white-shouldered ibis a creature that flirts dangerously

A white-shouldered ibis in Cambodia. Human impact on this critically endangered bird can be beneficial rather than destructive, and could even save it from extinction. (Photo/Hugh Wright)

A white-shouldered ibis in Cambodia. Human impact on this critically endangered bird can be beneficial rather than destructive, and could even save it from extinction. (Photo/Hugh Wright)

with extinction. The once common bird’s number is not up just yet however, as the ibis’ saving grace may lie in their relationship with small-scale farmers of Cambodia, a partnership likely to help save both the bird and a traditional way of life in Southeast Asia.

A new study published in the journal Animal Conservation highlights the work of the University of East Anglia and BirdLife International as they look at the benefits of traditional small-scale farming to survival of the critically endangered white-shouldered ibis.  Farming and cattle grazing create ideal forage land for the birds and opens a clean line of sight for spotting predators and prey. These findings draw attention to the friendlier side of human impacts. But plans for large-scale development in western Siem Pang, Cambodia, threaten both the farmer’s way of life and the ibis’ last hope for survival.

Scientists, conservation groups and the Cambodian government are currently looking at ways to mediate impacts. “The Forestry Administration in Cambodia is supportive of a proposal to make the area a protected forest,” said Hugh Wright, lead author of the study, in a press release “and we believe that this – along with the continuation of local farming methods practiced for generation after generation – will be crucial in saving this once common species from extinction.”

To find out more about the plight of the white-shouldered ibis, check out BirdLife International.

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Monarch flycatchers: Catching the moment one bird species becomes two

Plumage variations of the monarch flycatcher. (Photo/Courtesy J. Albert Uy)

Plumage variations of the monarch flycatcher. (Photo/Courtesy J. Albert Uy)

How do you measure the instant one species becomes two? Well, in the Solomon Islands, biologist J. Albert Uy is trying to pick a fight with monarch flycatchers to find the answer. The fight’s tipping point has to do with a bunch of feathers, a change in plumage colors that is allowing scientists to capture a snapshot of evolution in action.

A territorial flycatcher (Monarcha castaneiventris castaneiventris) aggressively responding to a taxidermy mount during our mount presentation experiment. We used mount presentation and song playback experiments to test if divergent plumage color and song are used in species recognition between sister taxa (described in Uy et al. 2009). (Photo/Courtesy J. Albert Uy)

A territorial flycatcher (Monarcha castaneiventris castaneiventris) aggressively responding to a taxidermy mount during our mount presentation experiment. (Photo/Courtesy J. Albert Uy)

Flycatcher males are territorial and will launch an avian smackdown towards perceived rivals trespassing on their turf. But a flip of a single gene is turning the monarch flycatcher into a bird of a different color, and in the process changing the social dynamics of rival birds.

It seems that though they are technically still the same species, the black-feathered flycatcher didn’t get the memo about their chestnut-bellied kin, and vice versa. Uy tested this by invading flycatcher territory with dummy birds. What he’s found is that the two don’t see each other as rivals, and are therefore probably more interested in mating with their like-feathered counterparts.

At least in the case of the monarch flycatcher, this single gene and spot of color heralds the birth of an entire new species.

J. Albert Uy (Photo/ C. Low, courtesy J. Albert Uy)

J. Albert Uy (Photo/ C. Low, courtesy J. Albert Uy)

We often hear about species being lost, but rarely do we learn of one being created. Uy’s work provides a glimpse of the “fork in the evolutionary road” as it happens in real-time, and what that could mean for our understanding of bird life.

Uy’s work appears in the current edition of American Naturalist, and you can read more about monarch flycatchers in the 2005 New York Times article, “In Give and Take of Evolution, a Surprising Contribution from Islands.”


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