Study uses scientific collections to elevate the San Cristóbal Island Vermilion Flycatcher to full species status, but no one has seen it since 1987
Date: August 10, 2016
Source: California Academy of Sciences
Scientists have discovered a new species of colorful songbird in the Galápagos Islands, with one catch: it's extinct. Researchers from the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco State University (SFSU), the University of New Mexico (UNM), and the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO) used molecular data from samples of museum specimens to determine that two subspecies of Vermilion Flycatchers, both found only in the Galápagos, should be elevated from subspecies to full species status. One of these newly recognized species -- the characteristically smaller San Cristóbal Island Vermilion Flycatcher -- hasn't been seen since 1987 and is considered to be the first modern extinction of a Galápagos bird species. The findings were published online earlier this May in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.
"A species of bird that may be extinct in the Galápagos is a big deal," says Jack Dumbacher, co-author and Academy curator of ornithology and mammalogy. "This marks an important landmark for conservation in the Galápagos, and a call to arms to understand why these birds have declined."
The study examined the complex evolutionary history of Vermilion Flycatchers by using advanced genetic techniques. In the absence of living tissue, the team turned to the California Academy of Sciences, which houses the largest collection of Galápagos bird specimens in the world. Specimens collected and preserved over 100 years ago allowed the team to carry out DNA sequencing and piece together an evolutionary history of the species.
Vermilion Flycatchers exhibit a complex evolutionary history having branched from an ancestral population into twelve recognized subspecies with ranges that span across the Americas and the Galápagos Islands. This study compares their evolutionary history against the way scientific authorities currently classify the species (and subspecies) to look for any inconsistencies.