I have just attended a VERY interesting lecture by Matthew Miller (of the Bermingham lab at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute's -STRI- Naos Laboratory) during the Panama Audubon Society's monthly meeting in Panama City. His first words stated that we are probably underestimating 30% of the avian diversity of our country !!!
Many different forms of lowland birds (and surely highlands too) in Panama may represent new, sometimes cryptic, species under the biological species concept. Birds like White-whiskered Puffbird, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher and White-breasted Wood-Wren are probably represented by more than one species within Panama... amazing! Just check Matthew's chart on White-breasted Wood-Wren populations that exhibit almost no introgression among them (suggesting THREE different species!).
There are different ways for divergence among the new species... with some groups forming distinct, new separable species in a relatively short time by exhibiting habits and behaviors that reinforce the breeding barriers among them, as in the case of the Selasphorus Scintillant and Volcano Hummingbirds.
|Volcano Hummingbird, genetically very similar to the Scintillant Hummingbird|
But others than the Selasphorus hummingbirds were the main attraction of the lecture. First of all, he showed to us the distinctiveness, both physical and genotypically, of the Escudo Hummingbird, Amazilia handleyi. Actually recognized as part of the widespread Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, A. tzacatl, the recognition of handleyi as a distinct, VERY range-restricted, full species would raise the conservation of tiny Escudo de Veraguas island as of high priority (the island is unprotected right now, and could hold more species new to science).
|Two Amazilia handleyi at the extreme right. Notice the larger size and general darker coloration in comparison with Amazilia tzacatl to the left|
And what everybody was waiting for.... Matthew confirmed the discovery of a completely new hummingbird species for science. In july 2011, STRI personnel collected a Lampornis hummingbird from southern Azuero Peninsula (Cerro Hoya), superficially similar to the Purple-throated Mountain-Gem (Lampornis calolaemus) of Nicaragua to central Panama. It differs in both crown and vent coloration, you can see the difference in vent color in the next two photos of prepared skins (Venicio "Beny" Wilson's photo shows the difference in crown color here).
|Lampornis sp. nov. at extreme left (two skins)|
|From left to righ: Lampornis sp. nov., Lampornis calolaemus and Lampornis castaneoventris|
The Purple-throated Mountain-Gem distribution is interrupted by that of the White-throated Mountain-Gem (Lampornis castaneoventris) in Costa Rica and western Panama, with two separable form: cinereicauda (so far restricted to Costa Rica) and nominal castaneoventris (extreme eastern Costa Rica and western Panama)... but in the next photo of one of Matthew's slides, you can also see how genetically different are the Cerro Hoya birds from all the others members of the complex (notice that the pectoralis population of Nicaragua and northwestern Costa Rica is also very distinct from the homogenes - and calolaemus - birds from southwestern Costa Rica/Panama and northern/central Costa Rica respectively, but physically very similar).
|Notice how distinct the Cerro Hoya birds are (enlarge the picture and follow the lines)|
Congratulations Matthew, and we are eager to see the formal description of the new species (as in plural) published soon!