Asian fossil birds, new research

This video says about itself:

Two of Papua New Guinea‘s many birds of paradise – the Magificent and the King – put on an show of dancing and hanging upside down in spectacular courtship display.

By Hanneke J.M. Meijer:

The avian fossil record in Insular Southeast Asia and its implications for avian biogeography and palaeoecology


Excavations and studies of existing collections during the last decades have significantly increased the abundance as well as the diversity of the avian fossil record for Insular Southeast Asia. The avian fossil record covers the Eocene through the Holocene, with the majority of bird fossils Pleistocene in age. Fossil bird skeletal remains represent at least 63 species in 54 genera and 27 families, and two ichnospecies are represented by fossil footprints. Birds of prey, owls and swiftlets are common elements.

Extinctions seem to have been few, suggesting continuity of avian lineages since at least the Late Pleistocene, although some shifts in species ranges have occurred in response to climatic change. Similarities between the Late Pleistocene avifaunas of Flores and Java suggest a dispersal route across southern Sundaland. Late Pleistocene assemblages of Niah Cave (Borneo) and Liang Bua (Flores) support the rainforest refugium hypothesis in Southeast Asia as they indicate the persistence of forest cover, at least locally, throughout the Late Pleistocene and Holocene.

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Orchids and axolotls in the botanical garden

This is a Dutch video about botanist Ed de Vogel, who discovered many orchids on New Guinea island.

9 December 2013. To the botanical garden orchid collection.

We met Ed de Vogel at the recently restored hothouse complex of the botanical garden. The banana plants were flowering.

Eleven plant species are named after De Vogel. also two species of seashells; which he studied before specializing in botany.

He said that now, about 3000 New Guinea orchid species are known. Maybe still a thousand species there are unknown yet.

De Vogel estimates that, all over the world, there are about 30,000 orchid species; a higher estimate than Wikipedia, which estimates, at least today, “between 21,950 and 26,049″ species. De Vogel’s estimate makes orchids the biggest flowering plant family; more numerous than Asteraceae.

Most orchids are epiphytes, growing on shrubs, or high in trees. A minority, including all species native to the Netherlands, grow on ground level.

One of the species in the hothouses is Grammatophyllum speciosum, the biggest orchid species in the world.

Other species here: Arundina graminifolia. And Dendrobium chrysopterum. Discovered only ten years ago; described then by De Vogel.

A bit further, a related species: Dendrobium spectabile.

In all the botanical garden hothouses together, there are about 3000 orchid species; some not yet described. Mainly from South East Asia; making Leiden botanical garden the garden with most South East Asian orchids in the world.

Bulbophyllum medusae is flowering. Various orchids flower in the hothouses throughout the year; never all at once.

In the hothouse, only accessible for scientific research, there are not only orchids, but pitcher plants as well: Nepenthes vogelii.

Dendrobium victoria-reginae is originally from the Philippines. It was named after Queen Victoria of England.

Chelonistele maximae-reginae is named after Queen Maxima of the Netherlands. Recently, De Vogel described that new species.

In a small aquarium in the non-accessible part of the building, many small fish. And three axolotl salamanders: two whitish, one brownish. Will they be exhibited in a bigger aquarium, visible for the public, again, like before the reconstruction of the hothouses. Yes, says Ed de Vogel.

This video says about itself:

Axolotl salamanders continue to intrigue researchers

15 June 2011

Students and professors at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois are studying axolotl salamanders. They are trying to discover why some of the salamanders appear to hold air in their lungs while continuing to get oxygen through their gills. The lungs full of air make the salamanders float to the surface, and the students call them “Floaters.”

New frog species discovery in Papua New Guinea

This video is called Feet in the Mud: Calling Frogs in Papua New GuineaConservation International (CI).

From Wildlife Extra:

Three tiny new frog species discovered in Papua New Guinea

3 new species of tiny frogs from the remarkable region of Papua New Guinea

September 2013. Three tiny new species of frogs have been discovered in Papua New Guinea. Dr Fred Kraus, of the University of Michigan, who in 2011 in Zookeys described the world’s smallest frogs Paedophryne dekot and Paedophryne verrucosa, now adds another 3 species from the genus Oreophryne to the remarkable diversity of this region.

The three new species Oreophryne cameroni, Oreophryne parkopanorum and Oreophryne gagneorum are all rather minute, with total body lengths of around 20 mm. These tiny frogs are still substantially larger than the species that claimed the smallest frog prize in 2011. Paedophryne dekot and Paedophryne verrucosa are only half of the length of the three new additions to the frog diversity of Papua New Guinea, with an astonishingly small body size ranging between 8-9 mm.

The subfamily to which the new species belong is largely restricted to New Guinea and its satellite islands. Of the constituent genera, Oreophryne is presently one of the largest within the Papuan Region.

More discoveries due

“Although the description of these new species now brings to seven the number of Oreophryne species reported from the north-coast region of New Guinea, the presence from these areas of additional specimens of uncertain identity suggests that additional species likely await description,” explains Dr Kraus about the diversity of the genus within the region. “I have at least a dozen more new Oreophryne species remaining to be described from this region, and large portions of this terrain system remain unsurveyed.”

The frogs are described in the latest issue of Zookeys.

New sea slug, feather star species discoveries in Papua New Guinea

This video is called Tab Island, Madang, Papua New Guinea, 18 August 2009.

From Wildlife Extra:

New species of sea slugs, feather stars and amphipods discovered in Papua New Guinea lagoon

Expedition led by Nova Southeastern University‘s National Coral Reef Institute discovers wealth of wildlife

March 2013. When Jim Thomas and his global team of researchers returned to the Madang Lagoon in Papua New Guinea, they discovered a treasure trove of new species unknown to science. This is especially relevant as the research team consisted of scientists who had conducted a previous survey in the 1990s.

“In the Madang Lagoon, we went a half mile out off the leading edge of the active Australian Plate and were in 6,000 metres of water,” said Thomas, Ph.D., a researcher at Nova Southeastern University’s National Coral Reef Institute in Hollywood, Fla. “It was once believed there were no reefs on the north coast of Papua New Guinea since there were no shallow bays and lagoons typical of most coral reef environments. But there was lots of biodiversity to be found.”

New species

Thomas and his team discovered new species of sea slugs (nudibranchs), feather stars (crinoids) and amphipods (genus Leucothoe). There was more variety of these indicator species found than there is in the entire length of Australia’s 1,600-mile Great Barrier Reef.

“This was an astonishing discovery,” Thomas said. “We returned to our labs and began to formally assess our collections. We had no idea this lagoon’s bounty was so profound.”

The international team Thomas led included researchers from and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, the California Academy of Sciences and the National Botanical Gardens of Ireland. Their 3-week expedition ended late last year. While in Madang, they joined a large French contingent of scientists from the Paris Museum of Natural History. The NSU-led research team’s findings will be shared with the local villagers, as well as regional and federal governments. It will also be published in peer-reviewed journals.

Environmental threats

The Madang Lagoon faces many environmental threats by land-based pollution from a recently opened tuna cannery whose outfall is very close to the lagoon’s reefs. “Hopefully, our discoveries will strongly encourage governing bodies to recognize the environmental importance of the lagoon and work to stop the pollution,” Thomas said.

New birds-of-paradise website

This video is called Birds-of-Paradise Project.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA:

Cornell Lab eNews

February 2013

Explore new multimedia website about the Birds-of-Paradise Project

The new website helps explain the Red Bird-of-Paradise‘s lovely display, and much more. Photo by Tim Laman.

Science and Beauty Converge on New Birds-of-Paradise Website

Come along with us in the next phase of the Birds-of-Paradise Project: a new website that uses high-definition video to explore the science of these exquisite birds. The site features 35 videos, expert narration by the project scientists, plus sounds, slideshows, and downloadable lessons for educators. We’ll show you how the males create their jaw-dropping colors, shapes, and dances. And we’ll show you why it’s the subdued females that end up in the most powerful roles. Explore the site.

Looking for recommendations? Here are a few of our favorites to start with:

Bird-of-paradise videos

These videos are part of the Birds-of-paradise project.

This video is about that project.

This video about birds-of paradise on the Aru islands in Indonesia says about itself:

Nov 12, 2012 by LabofOrnithology

See what it took for National Geographic photographer Tim Laman, to capture the shot of a lifetime.

This video is called Greater Bird-of-Paradise.

This video is called King-of-Saxony Bird-of-Paradise. Filmed by Tim Laman near Tari Gap in November of 2010.

This video says about itself:

Visit a King Bird-of-Paradise‘s perch in the lowland forests of the Bird’s Head Peninsula in western New Guinea. Watch as a diminutive male practices his courtship display. He aims to impress females with a combination of velvety red plumage, two emerald-green feather disks that bobble on wiry shafts—plus fan-shaped side feathers and abrupt about-face dance moves. Filmed by Tim Laman in August 2009.

More about the birds-of-paradise project is here.

Birds-of-Paradise video

This video from the USA says about itself:

Oct 10, 2012

This fall, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Geographic are bringing the Birds-of-Paradise Project to the public with a gorgeous coffee-table book (published October 23, 2012), a major exhibit at the National Geographic Museum (opening November 1), a documentary on the National Geographic Channel (airing at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT November 22), articles in the Cornell Lab’s Living Bird magazine and National Geographic magazine, and National Geographic Live lectures across the country. Get an advance look now…and witness diverse strategies of evolution at work and experience one of nature’s extraordinary wonders – up close.

The full list of events is here.

World’s largest butterfly endangered

This video is called Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

World’s largest butterfly disappearing from Papua New Guinea rainforests

Rare Queen Alexandra’s birdwing is losing habitat to logging and oil palm plantation

Posted by Mark Stratton

Monday 30 July 2012 11.35 BST

How large does a butterfly have to be before anybody notices it is disappearing? In the case of Papua New Guinea‘s (PNG) Queen Alexandra’s birdwing, the answer is enormous.

The world’s largest butterfly boasts a 1ft (30cm) wingspan – imagine the width of a school ruler – yet few outsiders in its rainforest home in Oro province in northern PNG have ever seen it. It’s a scenario unlikely to improve as oil palm plantation and logging remorselessly devours this endangered butterfly’s habitat.

Edwardian naturalist Albert Meek first recorded it in 1906 on a collecting expedition to PNG. The fast-flying butterfly frequents high rainforest canopy so Meek resorted to blasting them down by shotgun. The Natural History Museum taxonomically allocated his buckshot-peppered specimens into the birdwing genus (a tropical grouping possessing super-elongated forewings) and named it after Edward VII’s wife.

How does mimicry work in butterflies? Academy researcher Durrell Kapan and his colleagues have found the answer in the butterfly’s genome: here.

Japan may have a real-life Mothra on its hands. Like the giant moth that often battled Godzilla, the butterflies near the site of the 2011 Fukushima disaster may have been mutated by exposure to radiation: here.

September 2012. This wettest summer for a century saw the numbers of many common butterflies fall, the world’s biggest butterfly count has revealed. More than 25,000 people across the UK took part in the Big Butterfly Count 2012, counting over 223,000 butterflies and day-flying moths: here.

Rare Beck’s petrel survey

This is a Beck’s petrel video.

From BirdLife:

Beck’s pulls in at the petrel station

Tue, Jun 12, 2012

A BirdLife International survey in southern New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, has encountered the largest single aggregation of Critically Endangered Beck’s Petrel Pseudobulweria becki, ever recorded. Upwards of 100 birds were estimated to be present at one location, with a single count recording 58 birds. For a seabird species lost to science for 79 years until its rediscovery in 2007 these vital new data offer a glimmer of hope.

“There was huge excitement from everyone involved as the first bird banked past our small boat. That turned into amazement as we counted more and more across the horizon”, said Jez Bird – the project leader from BirdLife International. “These findings give us momentum, and some important clues to take the conservation of Beck’s Petrel forward.”

Until recently, Beck’s Petrel was only known from two specimens: a female taken at sea east of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea in 1928, and a male taken in the Solomon Islands in 1929. Its rediscovery in July and August 2007, was made when an expedition encountered the species on seven days and at at-least four localities off New Ireland. Beck’s Petrel is listed as Critically Endangered by BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN Red List because it is thought to have a global population of fewer than 250 mature individuals that is believed to be declining.

The principal aim of this recent survey was to gather clues as to the likely whereabouts of the species’ breeding grounds which are yet to be located. Petrels as a group face numerous threats, both at sea and when they come to land to breed. Arguably the most significant comes from introduced mammalian predators which predate adults and chicks in their nesting burrows.

“Identifying exactly where Beck’s Petrel is breeding is an essential precursor to assessing impacts that threats are having on the species, and implementing targeted conservation actions to address them”, said Jez Bird.

One important feature of the survey is that it didn’t use ‘chum’ to attract the birds. The earlier rediscovery of Beck’s Petrel and subsequent sightings have used this mix of fish discards and fish oil to concentrate birds from the surrounding area. It’s an extremely effective attractant but as a result it can yield a biased impression of a species’ true abundance in an area.

“To see so many Beck’s Petrels without the stimulus of chum is unprecedented”, noted Jez. “Typically these birds are solitary at sea and are encountered far offshore. A gathering like this, so close to land, while not definitive, strongly indicates that they are breeding nearby”.

As well as actively searching for the birds, the survey involved numerous consultations with local coastal communities. Petrels were and are frequently harvested in the Pacific, and fear of their eerie night-time calls often lead villages to establish taboo areas in the forest where entry is prohibited. Intriguingly no-one locally knew Beck’s Petrel when presented with pictures and there was no knowledge of any nesting areas locally. This, and the apparent abundance of certain petrel predators like wild pigs in coastal and foothill forest suggests they are most likely to be breeding in montane areas, consistent with what is already known of similar species.

The concentration of birds encountered in this survey was seen at the mouth of a large bay, sitting directly below New Ireland’s highest peak (at over 2,000 m), Mt Agil. The bay offers the shortest straight line distance to the summit. A focus of future work will be to spot-light at night for birds returning to nesting burrows on the mountain, a technique that has proven effective in surveying threatened petrels elsewhere.

“This is fantastic news for this Critically Endangered species. Hopefully further surveys will be able to build on these results and confirm the location and size of breeding colonies, which will enable us to begin targeted conservation action”, said Andy Symes, BirdLife’s Global Species Programme Officer.

This survey, kindly supported by the Mohammed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and the Global Greengrants Fund have responded to those priorities, implementing key research actions for this Critically Endangered species as part of the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme. It represents BirdLife’s first project in Papua New Guinea, working alongside local conservation organisation Ailan Awareness.

If you would like to make a donation that will help BirdLife International prevent extinctions please follow this link. To find out more about how you or your company can become a BirdLife Species Champion please email