A Song from the Sky

December 21, 2009

WCS helps discover the limestone leaf warbler, a small yellow bird with a distinctive call, in Laos. The bird’s home in the Southeast Asian country’s limestone region has become known as a treasure trove of new species.

First it was the striped rabbit, then the long-whiskered rodent and a bald songbird. Now, the latest animal to be discovered in the rocky forests of Laos and Vietnam is the limestone leaf warbler, a small greenish-olive bird with a yellow breast and striped crown. The discovery team included scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Lao PDR Department of Forestry, Swedish University of Agricultural Science, Swedish Museum of Natural History, BirdLife International, and other groups.

The limestone leaf warbler gets its name from its breeding sites in Laos’s limestone karst environments, a region known for unusual wildlife. It looks similar to other warblers in this area of Southeast Asia, but is smaller, with shorter wings and a larger bill than its closest relative, the sulfur-breasted leaf warbler. It also has a loud and distinct call, which is what first alerted the authors that the bird may be new to science.

“The discovery of this new species is very exciting and underscores the importance of this region of Indochina for conservation,” said Colin Poole, Executive Director of WCS-Asia. “With increased attention from biologists, the Annamite mountain range of Laos in particular is revealing itself as a Lost World for new and unusual wildlife.”

A description of the species is published in the International Journal of Avian Science, or IBIS. Authors include: Per Alstrom, Swedish University of Agricultural Science and the Swedish Museum of Natural History; Peter Davidson, J. William Duckworth and Robert Timmins, Wildlife Conservation Society; Jonathan C. Eames and Trai Trong Le, Birdlife International in Indochina; Cu Nguyen, Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology; Urban Olsson, University of Goteborg; and biologist Craig Robson.

Scientists presume there are many limestone leaf warblers in this region. But their future is uncertain. Many parts of the species’ native forests have been cleared as a result of wood collection. WCS is continuing to work with the Lao government in an effort to reduce the threats limestone leaf warblers and other wildlife face in this region.

Earlier in 2009 in this same region, a team of scientists from WCS and the University of Melbourne described the bare-faced bulbul, another species previously unknown to science. In 2002 in this same area, Robert Timmins of WCS described the Kha-nyou, a species of rodent so unusual it represented the lone surviving member of an otherwise entirely extinct family. Three years earlier, he described a unique striped rabbit in the region also new to science.


Read the press release: A Song from the Sky: WCS helps discover a new bird species

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