Scientists have found the first known hybrid bird species in the Amazon rainforest. By various genetic and another kind of tests unveiled that the golden-crowded manakin was discovered earlier. The uncommon and elusive bird was discovered in 1957 but wasn’t seen again till 2002 and is, in fact, a hybrid species. Senior author of research Professor Jason Weir says while hybrid plant species are very common, hybrid species among vertebrates are exceedingly rare.
Professor Weir and his research team gathered genetic and feather sample over two separate field trips to Brazil. They were then able to arrange a significant portion of this species genome including 16000 different genetic markers, determining that about 20 percent of its genome came from the Snowy-crowned, and about 80 percent came from the Opal-crowned.
Weir continues that “Most Amazon bird species diverged from their most recent relative around 1.5 to 4 million years ago, so these are all young birds by comparison.” The scientists also used something called coalescent modelling to figure out at what point the species split off from its parental species. They found out it was around 180,000 years ago when the two parental species mated initially, and about 300,000 years ago, making all three very recent birds by Amazon rainforest standards.
The hybrid species likely had duller white or grey feathers early on in its existence as a result of its keratin structure, but eventually evolved yellow feather as an alternative way to attract females. The golden-crowned manakin likely had duller white or grey feathers early on in its existence as a result of its keratin structure, but eventually evolved yellow feathers as an alternative way to attract females. As a consequence, it is a uniquely coloured species.
“The golden-crowned manakin ended up with an intermediate keratin structure that does a poor job of making either the brilliant white or the reflective iridescence of the parental species,” says Weir.
The golden-crowned manakin lives in an area of the south-central Amazon Rainforest that is approximately 200 sq. km and is largely separated from areas where snow-capped and opal-crowned live by wide rivers that the birds are reluctant to cross. As Weir points out, it likely owes its survival as a species on being geographically isolated from its parental species at some point during a past ice age when rainforest coverage contracted, and wide rivers formed natural barriers.
Weir said, “Without geographic isolation, it’s very likely this would never have happened because you don’t see the hybrids evolving as separate species in other areas where both parental species meet.” The territory of the golden-crowned manakin is an area about 77 square miles and is separated mainly by broad rivers from areas where its parent species dwell.
There are few likely nominees of hybrid species in nature, such as the red wolf, probably a hybrid between the coyote and grey wolf. Combinations of two species do occur in nature, as Weir notes in most cases they won’t develop unusual characteristics to become its seperate species. The rare species is categorised as vulnerable, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, mostly due to habitat loss, induced by clearing the rainforest.