19 May 2008

Discovery of Piculet Woodpecker Conveys Importance of Conserving Neotropic Habitats

The recent discovery of a new species of a piculet woodpecker conveys the importance of understanding bird diversity in natural environments of the tropics.

An as yet unnamed species was recently discovered in the Cerrado region of Brazil by Professor Luís Fábio Silveira, of the Departamento de Zoologia, Universidade de São Paulo.

Pictures of the Cerrado Region.

All images taken by Fábio Schunck. Used with permission.

Three birds were collected during intensive studies of the regional avifauna. First a male and then a pair of birds were taken using a shotgun, using small-sized shot in order to obtain the specimens essential for documenting the species for identification and classification.

Professor Silveira, with experience studying "species of this genus, since the beginning of the field work in January of 2008, had heard an unusual voice, which certainly was from a Picumnus, a genus of piculet. The bird was not observed despite intensive searches and listening to them in several localities without being able to locate the species among the dense vegetation. After one week the first specimen, a male, was collected. Some days after that, in another locality, a pair was collected. "

With three birds having the same morphological characteristics in hand, tape-recordings of the voices and specimens from two different localities, he realized the birds were a new taxon.

Piculets are small, distinctive woodpeckers which occur primarily in South America. There are about 25 recognized species. Particular characteristics include a large head, lack of the stiff tail typical of many woodpecker species, short bills used to extract insects from decaying wood, and a habit for using the holes in tree cavities dug-out by other woodpeckers. About a half-dozen other piculet species occur in China, southeast Asia, central American and Africa.

Prof. Silveira and his students - Vitor Piacentini, Érika Machado and Fábio Schunck - are still working on the scientific description needed to recognize a new species. The name probably will allude to the place where the birds were collected, or the habitat, he said.

[Cerrado region map]

Map of the Cerrado region and the ecological station. Map courtesy of Conservation International.

"Discovery of a new species of bird is always exciting," Silveira said. "Birds are a really well known group of vertebrates and discover a new species is quite rare today. I've described a new species of a wonderful parakeet and now we're working hard to describe a new antwren, two new tapaculos, a bellbird and a treehunter with other colleagues from Brazil and USA. New things are coming to our attention due our intensive field work in the last few years."

Dr. Silveira's work as a taxonomist played an essential role in identifying the new species.

"If I had a limited experience with this genus I could simply fit the voice or the birds within previously known species," Silveira said. The professor and his students will conduct further studies to learn more about the natural history of the new species.

"We´re studying our specimens and preparing the scientific description, which will appear probably in the next year," Silveira said. "After that we plan to start a project to understand better its habitat requirements and refine the distribution in the region. Fortunately this species is protected in a large conservation unit and its situation can be considered quite safe."

The site where the species was find was within the Serra Geral do Tocantins Ecological Station, a 716,000-hectare (1,769,274 acres) protected area.

"The Serra Geral harbours a enormous diversity of birds, including the Brazilian Merganser, a species Dr. Silveira has studied since 1996. The Hyacinth Macaw and Dwarf Tinamou, are among other endemic or threatened species in the Cerrado area. And we were able to find jaguars and deers. This place is simply wonderful and is one of the most isolated lands that I ever seen."

Coal-crested Finch. Charitospiza eucosma.

Ruby-topaz Hummingbird. Chrysolampis mosquitus.

Guira Tanager. Hemithraupis guira.

The O Boticário Foundation, Conservation International, and Pequi-Pesquisa e Conservação do Cerrado provided funding that was essential in supporting the research that led to the new discovery.

Recent efforts by researchers documented 14 new species in the Cerrado region, including eight fish, three reptiles, one amphibian, and one mammal. Several threatened species were also documented during a 29-day field expedition, according to a news release by Conservation International.

The Cerrado's wooded grassland which once covered an area half the size of Europe - comprising about 21% of the land area of Brazil - is now being converted to cropland and ranchland at twice the rate of the neighboring Amazon rainforest, resulting in the loss of native vegetation and unique species.

"The geographic distribution of some of the species registered is restricted to the area of the ecological station; thus their survival depends on the good management of the protected area and its immediate surroundings," said Professor Silveira. "From the survey we can obtain data concerning the anatomy, reproductive biology, life cycle, and distribution of the species, all of which help us in future conservation programs."

Additional views of the Cerrado region at the ecological station.

1 comment:

buy generic viagra said...

I went to the Cerrado Region a couple of years ago for vacations, and so far it has been one the best vacations ever, the landscapes, the nature, all in there is magical, and the sunsets are the just mind blowing.

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