Monday, March 7, 2016

Cryptic diversity in Colombian illegally traded bird species

Colombia became a member of the iBOL family at the end of 2011. It is the the second most biodiverse country in the world only topped by Brazil. It is estimated that Colombia might be the home to 150,000 to 200,000 species. Colombia is the country with the most bird species in the world. 

However, human induced deforestation has already substantially changed the Andean landscape in Colombia. It is also linked to the conversion of lowland tropical forests to palm oil plantations. However, compared to neighboring countries rates of deforestation in Colombia are still relatively low. Other challenges are caused by natural factors such as the geological instability related to Colombia's position along the Pacific Ring of Fire. Colombia has 15 major volcanoes, the eruptions of which have on occasion resulted in substantial loss of life. Geological faults that have caused numerous devastating earthquakes. Heavy floods both in mountainous areas and in low-lying watersheds and coastal regions regularly occur during the rainy seasons with varying rainfall intensities due to the El NiƱo-Southern Oscillation

Unfortunately, Colombia's avifauna is not only threatened by habitat degradation but also by poaching. This was reason enough for a group of Colombian researchers to start building a DNA barcode library for all the Nation's birds starting with the ones that are listed in the CITES appendices. Half of those (151 species) are now done and among them are many hummingbirds endemic of the Northern Andes region.

Even in this rather small subset (~8%) of all the birds described from Colombia (~1800 species), the colleagues identified eleven cases of high intraspecific divergence (up to 14.61%) that could reflect cryptic diversity. Although bird species have been well studied and we think we have a good idea of the number of species that occur globally, such high rates of potentially overlooked species (>7%) are still surprising and unsettling given that the discovery was made among birds that are subject of illegal wildlife trade.

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