An international team of ornithologists led by by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History has discovered and scientifically described a new species of flowerpecker from the island of Borneo.
Named the spectacled flowerpecker (Dicaeum dayakorum), the newfound bird lives in the lowland forests of Borneo.
The species belongs to Dicaeidae, a colorful family of small, fruit-eating passerine birds found throughout tropical southern Asia, Australia and nearby islands.
“This bird is totally unique,” said Dr. Christopher Milensky, collections manager for the Division of Birds at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
“It’s unlike anything else, and it is the latest example of the rich biodiversity that can be found in this region.”
The spectacled flowerpecker was first sighted in the Danum Valley of Sabah in northeastern Malaysian Borneo in 2009.
Only ten years later, in March 2019, Dr. Milensky and colleagues managed to capture a female individual of the species and examine it closely.
They analyzed its external features and compared its DNA to that of other flowerpeckers.
They found that the spectacled flowerpecker is not closely related to any other known flowerpecker species.
“It isn’t related to any of the other flowerpeckers all that closely. It’s a whole new species that distinctly stands out,” said Dr. Jacob Saucier, also from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
The researchers also analyzed the bird’s diet and found that it eats the berries of mistletoe, a parasitic plant that grows high in the forest canopy.
“Flowerpeckers are known to feed on a wide variety of fruits, flowers, and invertebrates,” they said.
“However, specialization on mistletoe fruit is one of the characteristic traits of the family, and is likely reciprocal due to their role as canopy seed dispersers.”
Through DNA analysis and close inspection of seeds from the bird’s gut, the team was able to identify the type of mistletoe that the spectacled flowerpecker eats.
This information gives the scientists a new perspective on this bird’s ecological needs and habitat preferences.
“We hope this discovery will bring attention to the unexplored diversity that remains in the forests of Borneo — and the importance of conserving these threatened ecosystems,” the ornithologists said.
“Protecting the region’s natural resources from logging, palm plantations and other sources of deforestation is critical to preserve endemic species, as well as the homes and livelihoods of the island’s indigenous people.”
“The knowledge and skills of the local people were essential in enabling our research team to access the wildlife preserve and animals for the study,” Dr. Saucier said.
“The scientific name that we chose for the spectacled flowerpecker, Dicaeum dayakorum, honors the Dayaks, the people who live in and are working to protect the island’s forests.”
Jacob R. Saucier et al. 2019. A distinctive new species of flowerpecker (Passeriformes: Dicaeidae) from Borneo. Zootaxa 4686 (4); doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.4686.4.1