Scientists are proposing to add two new subspecies to four existing ones within the Sulawesi babbler (Pellorneum celebense) species. The team identified the new subspecies based on differences in DNA, body measurements and song recordings from dozens of babblers. Taxonomic implications aside, the study also sheds light on the phenomenon of rapid evolution, as the babblers’ genetic divergence occurred over just tens of thousands of years, rather than millions. But the nickel-rich soils believed to have given rise to the birds’ divergence could be hastening its demise, with mining companies eyeing their habitats for resource extraction. Picking out the fluty whistle of a Sulawesi babbler ( Pellorneum celebense ) is easy. Spotting it is far more difficult: these shy and diminutive birds, endemic to the forests of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, spend their days flitting about the understory, where their brown plumages allow them to blend discreetly into the environment. The babbler’s unassuming appearance poses a challenge to more than bird-watchers: taxonomists have long had difficulty separating the species, commonly found across Sulawesi and its nearby isles, into different subspecies based on visual cues. Today, there are officially four subspecies (a fifth, P. c. improbatum for populations in […]

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