Posted by: Loren Coleman on May 21st, 2011
Researchers from Madagascar and The Field Museum recently described a new bird species. They named the new bird, a forest-dwelling rail, Mentocrex beankaensis, with the genus Mentocrex endemic to Madagascar and the new species beankaensis referring to the location where the bird was found – the Beanka Forest in west central area of the island. Scientists determined the rail was a new species based on the bird’s size, plumage, and DNA.
Field Museum zoologist Steve Goodman conducted the morphological portion of the study in Madagascar along with his colleague Marie Jeanne Raherilalao, Professor at the University of Antananarivo and Association Vahatra. Nicholas Block, a graduate student with the University of Chicago who is works at The Field Museum’s Pritzker Laboratory for Molecular Systematics and Evolution, analyzed the bird’s DNA.
The discovery of the new species emphasizes the critical need to conserve the remaining dry forests of Madagascar which have been drastically reduced in size. An estimated 97 percent of the original forest cover in this portion of the island has disappeared since humans arrived some 2,500 years ago. Over the past decades these remaining dry forest areas have been the sites of numerous discoveries of plant and animal species new to science.
The Beanka Forest is a largely intact area resting on exposed limestone formation with razor-sharp pinnacle-like structures. The forest is in a remote portion of the island and has been managed since late 2007 by the Association Biodiversity Conservation Madagascar (BCM) and funded by Bioculture (Mauritius) Ltd., which has started programs for the socio-economic development of surrounding communities, forest restoration, and the conservation of the site. In the fall of 2009, the Association Vahatra, in collaboration with BCM and several other research groups working on Madagascar’s flora and fauna, organized a large-scale biological inventory of the Beanka Forest.
During this inventory, scientists discovered several new species of plants, invertebrates and vertebrates, including the new rail. Mentocrex beankaensis is the first of a series from the expedition to be named. Dr. Raherilalao commented on the discovery, saying, “Even after many decades of research, nature is always full of surprises, even for organisms such as birds that have been intensively studied. This underlies the importance of field research and biologocal inventories.”
“He just shuffled up the handrail near where we were sitting and seemed totally unperturbed by all the excitement he was causing,” said Lizzie Noble, a volunteer researcher at the El Dorado nature reserve in north Colombia.
The tree rat (Santamartamys rufodorsalis) was considered extinct. But after presenting itself to Noble and her colleague, Simon McKeown, on May 4, 2011, it stayed for two hours, enough for photos. The nocturnal rodent even allowed them to take close-ups snaps before wandering back into the forest.
“We’re delighted to have rediscovered such a wonderful creature after just a month of volunteering,’” said Noble, of Godalming in Surrey. “Clearly, the El Dorado reserve has many more exciting discoveries waiting for us.”