Friday, August 28, 2009

Extinct birds rediscovered

Beck's petrel, a species not confirmed in the wild since the 1920s has been found alive. The announcement was made based on the study of photographs taken of some 30 birds in the summer of 2008 by an Israeli ornithologist, who also collected one dead specimen. The bird was spotted in the Bismarck Archipelago, a group of islands famous in World War II as a battle site in the southwestern Pacific.

Meanwhile, the Tasman booby was also thought extinct. British scientists investigating its case didn't find live birds, but they did nail down the fact that it's not technically an extinct species because it was really a subspecies of something else all along. As Dr. Tammy Steeves put it, ""What was once considered to be an extinct species, the Tasman booby (Sula tasmani), turns out be a subspecies of a living species, the masked booby (Sula dactylatra fullagari). And now these charismatic seabirds have a new name - Sula dactylatra tasmani."
COMMENT: This is not nearly as much fun as announcing news of a new or rediscovered species, but it is important. Proper identification and taxonomy helps us decide where to concentrate our conservation efforts as well as telling us more about the evolution of all the bird populations involved in a case like this. The Tasman booby had some obvious physical differences from its shorter-winged relation, so the similarity of the DNA brings up interesting questions.

THANKS TO Chad Arment for passing these links on to Dale Drinnon, who reported them in a crypto email list.

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