Saturday, 11 April 2015

Scytalopus perijanus, a new species of Tapaculo from the Serranía de Perijá Mountains on the border between Colombia and Venezuela.

Tapaculos, Rhinocryptidae, are small Passarine Birds found in dense forests in South America. They are extremely secretive in nature, and thus particularly hard to study, though the group is known to contain a large number of highly endemic species (i.e. species with very limited geographical ranges), each of which is thought to tolerate a very limited range of environmental conditions.

In a paper published in the journal The Auk on 11 March 2015, Jorge Enrique Avendaño of the Laboratorio de Biología Evolutiva de Vertebrados at the Universidad de los Andes, Andrés Cuervo of the Department of Biological Sciences and Museum of Natural Science at Louisiana State University and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University, Juan Pablo López-O. of the Instituto de Ciencias Naturales at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Natalia Gutiérrez-Pinto of the Laboratorio de Biología Evolutiva de Vertebrados at the Universidad de los Andes and the Department of Biology at the University of Miami, Alexander Cortés-Diago of the Fundacion EcoHabitats and Carlos Daniel Cadena also of the Laboratorio de Biología Evolutiva de Vertebrados at the Universidad de los Andes describe a new species of Tapaculo from the Serranía de Perijá Mountains on the border between Colombia and Venezuela.

The new species is placed in the genus Scytalopus, and given the specific name perijanus, in reference to the area where it was found. They are small grey and brown Birds, massing 16.5-20.5 g with a wing length of 51.5-65.0mm. The males are territorial, and issue a distinctive ‘churr’ call, followed by between two and sixty five repeats. This Birds were found living at altitudes of between 1600 m and 3120 m on the Venezuelan side of the Serranía de Perijá, and between 1600 m and 3225 m on the Colombian side, though it may formerly have been found lower on both sides, as below 1600 m the Serranía de Perijá have been largely stripped of their forests for agriculture.

Female (left) and male (right) Perijá Tapaculo, Scytalopus perijanus attending a nestling (center). Note the more rufous nuchal patch in the female. Jon Fjeldså in Avendaño et al. (2015).

Scytalopus perijanus appears to favour the elfin and humid forests and highland bushy paramo between 2500 m and 3000 m. The area where it lives is highly disturbed by Human activity, with complete forest clearance up to 2000 m on parts of the Colombian side of the mountains, and a high degree of forest fragmentation in all areas. The forests have been affected by logging and clearing for agriculture, including the growing of illicit crops (narcotics), as well as spraying with herbicides intended to supress the growing of such crops. The area is currently particularly affected by clearing for Cattle ranching and fires, with areas cleared for Cattle ranching tending not to return to forest after being cleared, even if the ranches are subsequently abandoned, creating areas of fire-vulnerable grassland within the forests. About 300 000 hectares of humid montane forest and paramo on the Venezuelan side of the border is protected by the Sierra de Perijá National Park, but no protected areas exist on the Colombian side of the border.

Map of northern South America showing the location of areas mentioned in the text, point locality records, and potential distribution of Scytalopus perijanus (light gray polygons along the Venezuelan–Colombian border). Note the restricted range of the new species to the northern sector of the Serranía de Perijá mainly above 1,600 m. Avendaño et al. (2015).

The extent to which Scytalopus perijanus is able to tolerate Human disturbance is unclear, though it appears to be present in areas where Human habitat modification (such as Coffee farming) and partial logging are occurring, suggesting that it is able to tolerate some disturbance. However it was absent in areas where forests had been completely cleared, burned or replaced by grassland. It is provisionally listed as Endangered under the terms of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Avendaño et al. note that the Serranía de Perijá are home to a high number of highly endemic Bird species (i.e. Bird species with very limited geographical rages) and suggest that the creation of a reserve or network of reserves similar to the Sierra de Perijá National Park on the Colombian side of the border should be a priority.

See also…

Birdlife International published an assessment of the conservation status of 350 newly described Bird Species for International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species on 24 July 2014, the first such assessment by the organization...

Passerines (Perching Birds) are the most numerous and successful group of Birds in the modern world, with over half of all known Bird species being Passerines, including Finches, Thrushes, Sparrows, Warblers and Crows. Despite their success the group do not have an extensive fossil record, largely due to...

Tailorbirds of the genus Orthotomus are small Warblers that get their name from their method of building nests, which involves stitching the sides of a large leaf together with plant fibers or Spider silk to form a cradle, within which a woven grass nest is...

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