Above: Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise (Lophorina niedda). Scientist Ed Scholes and photographer Tim Laman first heard male vocalisations of this newly recognised species, found in the Bird’s Head Peninsula of Indonesia, back in 2009. Photo: Tim Laman


A COMBINATION OF fieldwork and museum analysis has led to the western population of the superb bird-of-paradise (Lophorina superba) being officially recognised as a new species.

Last year, researcher Ed Scholes and photographer Tim Laman, from America, recorded visual evidence of the different courtship behaviours between the western population in the Arfak Mountains of Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Peninsula, and the more common form found elsewhere on New Guinea. (For full story, see News, August 30 issue.)

This supported another independent study that used DNA samples from museum specimens to examine the evolutionary relationships among the subspecies of superb bird-of-paradise and riflebird. Results published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society also found that the western form was genetically different from the widespread form.

Mr Scholes and Mr Laman compiled their analysis of DNA, voice, behaviour and plumage differences during courtship and presented this in a new paper published in the journal PeerJ.

Both studies confirmed the western population’s status as a new species –  the Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise (L. niedda) – with the more widespread form renamed the greater superb bird-of-paradise.

Mr Scholes explained: “While there are a number of smaller differences, the most prominent and visible ones are that the overall shape and appearance of the Vogelkop is crescent shaped (rounded with tapered ends) while the greater superb is oval.

“During its display, the male greater superb bounces up and down while circling the female, whereas the Vogelkop rotates in a smooth gliding motion without any up-and-down movement. This smooth movement is very different compared with the vigorous bouncing of the greater superb.” 

The Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise now joins three other bird-of-paradise species endemic to the Bird’s Head Peninsula of Indonesia: Astrapia nigra, Paradigalla carunculata and Parotia sefilata.

Mr Scholes added: “Tim and I are very pleased that our years of work in the forests of West Papua helped to uncover this unique species.

“It’s amazing to think that something so distinct was out there ‘under our noses’ for so long and yet remained unnoticed.”

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