New bird named after Indonesia's First Lady

05 February 2018 | Research
Printer Friendly, PDF & Email
The newly described Rote Myzomela is endemic to Rote Island of Indonesia (Photo: Philippe Verbelen)

A new bird species, the Rote Myzomela (Myzomela irianawidodoae) has been described to science by a joint Singapore-Indonesia team headed by Assistant Professor Frank Rheindt from NUS Biological Sciences and Dr Dewi Prawiradilaga from Indonesia’s government agency LIPI. 

Belonging to the Myzomela genus — a group of small, brightly coloured honeyeaters comprising more than 30 species — and first observed in 1990, the bird was until now mistakenly classified as part of the Sumba Myzomela (Myzomela dammermanni) given its similar appearance.  

The team found that the species exhibits distinct vocal and plumage characteristics that call for its identification as a separate species within the genus Myzomela.   

The Rote Myzomela is the latest of a number of new bird species described from this diverse but underexplored region. Although birds are among the best-known animals on Earth and almost all species are thought to be known, eastern Indonesia is one of the last frontiers whence to expect additional discoveries in the coming years.

The researchers analysed a total of 87 sound recordings of the Rote Myzomela, as well as species that share geographical proximity or morphological similarity with the new taxon. Songs are often crucial in mate selection and a source of reproductive isolation in birds.

They found that the Rote Myzomela possessed a series of unique calls not found in other species, while lacking vocalisations common in the Sumba Myzomela and other birds. In addition, populations did not respond to playback of the songs of the opposite taxon, lending credence to the identification of the Rote Myzomela as a unique species, given that honeyeaters generally respond aggressively to their own songs during intraspecific competition. 

The bird’s distinctive distribution of scarlet, black and olive-grey colouration further supports this conclusion.

The findings of the study were published in the science journal Treubia in December 2017.

“The Rote Myzomela is the latest of a number of new bird species described from this diverse but underexplored region. Although birds are among the best-known animals on Earth and almost all species are thought to be known, eastern Indonesia is one of the last frontiers whence to expect additional discoveries in the coming years,” said Asst Prof Rheindt.

Endemic to Rote Island, one of Indonesia’s southern-most islands, the newly described species is threatened by habitat destruction in the wake of heavy deforestation brought on by a growing human population. 

For this reason, the researchers have proposed a “vulnerable” International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources threat status for the species, calling for serious conservation efforts by the community. They have also named the species Myzomela irianawidodoae, after the First Lady of Indonesia Iriana Joko Widodo, in recognition of her longstanding interest in Indonesia’s bird life and advocacy for the country’s natural environment.    

See media coverage.