Six ornithologists and birders have discovered a new species of antbird in north-central Peru, and they named it after world-renowned biologist E.O. Wilson, who is known as the “father of biodiversity” because he coined the term in 1988.
The group published a formal description of the Cordillera Azul Antbird (Myrmoderus eowilsoni) last week in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, a journal of the American Ornithological Society. Regarding the bird’s name, they wrote: “We name Myrmoderus eowilsoni in honor of Dr. Edward Osborne Wilson to recognize his tremendous devotion to conservation and his patronage of the Rainforest Trust, which strives to protect the most imperiled species and habitats in the Neotropics and across the globe. We select the English name to draw attention to the little known but biogeographically important and biodiverse mountain range that contains the type locality of the species.”
“The idea of [having] a bird named after you is right up there with maybe the Nobel [Prize], because it’s such a rarity to have a true new species discovered, and I do take it as a great personal honor,” said Wilson.
Josh Beck of El Cajon, California, discovered the bird in July 2016 near the Peruvian coffee-growing town of Flor de Café. The forests around the town are somewhat popular with birders because it’s the site of the 1996 discovery of the Scarlet-banded Barbet, a distinctive species that graces the cover of the 2010 Birds of Peru field guide.
Beck heard the antbird’s rattling call and viewed it walking on the ground. He knew it didn’t look or sound like any known species and was ready to leave the area to find ornithological assistance to document the find. By chance, Dan Lane and Andre Moncrieff, of the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science, and Peruvian ornithologists Fernando Angulo and Jesse Fagan arrived in Flor de Café. Over the next several days, the group documented the new species with voice recordings, photos, videos, and the collection of specimens.
It was the 19th bird species discovered by LSU ornithologists since 2006. See the full list.
“Based on our initial visit and a follow-up expedition led by LSU graduate student Oscar Johnson,” Moncrieff wrote, “we’ve learned a few things about this new species: its closest relative is the Ferruginous-backed Antbird (of which the nearest populations are about 1,500 km [930 miles] to the east in lowland forests of Brazil), it eats insects, the males and females sing different songs, it lives in pristine understory of humid forest, and its future near Flor de Café is very grim.
“Chainsaws were an overwhelming component of the soundscape around town. We even asked some locals to delay cutting activities so that we could get better voice recordings of the antbird. Sun-coffee farming, which necessitates clear-cutting, is the main source of income for the residents of Flor de Café. By contrast, birding ecotourism benefits only a few residents, leading to some unfortunate and ongoing tensions within the town. There is clearly a great need for environmental education and conservation work in the region.”
The good news is that the area where the bird was found is near the Cordillera Azul National Park, which contains more than 5,200 square miles (13,500 sq. km) of pristine habitat. “We are very optimistic that future exploration within the park will produce new localities for the antbird and barbet, both presently facing severe habitat loss around Flor de Café,” Moncrieff says.
How the antbird got its name
Beck decided to name the new antbird species in honor of Wilson after discussing the possibility with Rainforest Trust president and distinguished ornithologist Robert Ridgely.
“As Dr. Wilson and I were discussing the possibility of his joining Rainforest Trust’s Board of Directors, it occurred to me that he didn’t have anything other than several ant species named after him,” said Ridgely. “This for a pre-eminent scientist so highly regarded for his insights on biodiversity! Josh and I agreed this was the perfect, and long overdue, opportunity to name a vertebrate species after him. Even better, it was an antbird!”
Although officially retired, Wilson remains very active in the conservation sector. He is Professor Emeritus and Honorary Curator in Entomology at Harvard University and this fall joined the Board of Directors of Rainforest Trust.
“Dr. Wilson is widely considered to be the most esteemed conservation biologist alive, and Rainforest Trust shares a common vision with him of protecting the most important areas in the world for rare species and biodiversity generally,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Paul Salaman. “We are excited to be working toward the protection of forest habitat in Peru for the new antbird named after Dr. Wilson.”
Explaining why he supports Rainforest Trust, Wilson stated, “[Rainforest Trust] finds out where the species are, they learn which ones and ensembles that make up the ecosystem are in greatest danger, and then they find the money to save them in perpetuity. That’s the way to do things.”
Read more about birds in Peru
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