In Peru’s Cordillera Azul National Park, biologists have discovered a new species of hummingbird with shiny feathers around its throat that resemble a golden collar.
The park’s remote location is an ideal place to discover genetically unique species. It is part of the outer ridge of the eastern slopes of the Andes.
When John Bates, curator of birds at the Field Museum in Chicago, noticed that the specimens were unlike any other, he thought they belonged to a new species.
new hummingbird species
After researchers completed fieldwork in Peru and returned to the Field Museum to examine the bird’s DNA, they made a startling discovery.
The rufous-webbed hummingbird (Heliodoxa branickii) and the pink-throated hummingbird (Heliodoxa gularis), two closely related species of hummingbird, are the birds’ parents and had never been observed before.
The researchers wondered how mixing pink with pink could produce golden plumage, since both species of hummingbirds have prominent pink feathers on their throats.
According to Bates, the DNA of the bird specimens matched that of Heliodoxa branickii, a pink-throated hummingbird native to that part of Peru.
Initially, only mitochondrial DNA was analyzed, which was inherited from the mother and matched Heliodoxa branickii.
Next, the researchers examined nuclear DNA resulting from the genetic contributions of each parental species and revealed features of Heliodoxa gularis and Heliodoxa branickii.
Golden-throated hummingbirds, however, did not arise from equal genetic splits. Descendants emerged from mating with branickii hummingbirds, and one of its ancestors may have been a homogeneous mixture of the two species.
The study, which details research done by Bates and several colleagues, was recently published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
Because it’s unusual for hummingbirds of the same species to have throat feathers so different, the researchers delved further into the mystery of the hybrid’s golden feathers.
According to study co-author and Field Museum senior research scientist Chad Eliason, the hybrid combines two complex feather-making recipes from its two parents.
according to new york headlines, the melanin that gives feathers their primary color is what gives feathers their structural color, but the cellular structure of the feather and the way the feather reflects light also contribute. This structural tone gives hummingbird feathers an iridescent quality.
The research team examined the birds’ throat feathers using an electron microscope to determine how light reflected by the feathers produces the various colors.
According to Eliason, iridescence can be used to create magenta in a variety of ways. Each parent species produces a different magenta color. This is why creating feather colors can produce non-linear or unexpected results.
The discovery raises the possibility that hybrids are responsible for the variety of hues seen in different hummingbirds.
According to Eliason, depending on the rate of color evolution in hummingbirds, this pronounced pink-to-gold color transition took between 6 million and 10 million years to emerge in a single species.
According to Bates, cutting-edge resources such as genetic data offer new insights into how these events occur over time and space. In the region of Peru where the study was conducted, one of the things the team wanted to investigate was how this intricate foothills landscape had changed over time, and in what ways those changes had contributed to birds and other biological diversity, CNN reports.
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