From Yomiuri Shimbun daily in Japan:
New short-tailed albatross species found
Scientists have long believed that only one species of ahodori, or short-tailed albatross, exists in Japan, but groundbreaking research has found there are probably two different species.
The ahodori is a protected species in danger of extinction, and the discovery may affect a conservation and breeding project that has been carried out by the Environment Ministry since 1993.
Research teams of the University of Tokyo and Tottori University found that short-tailed albatrosses on Torishima in the Izu Islands and the Senkaku Islands, the only two breeding places in the world, are most likely different species.
The research teams’ paper was published in an electronic version of Conservation Genetics, an international academic journal focusing on the conservation of genetic diversity.
After analyzing gene samples from the bones of a short-tailed albatross unearthed on the islands, and genes taken from the seabirds’ feathers at the two breeding sites, the researchers concluded the birds probably separated into two groups at least 1,000 years ago.
Although identical in appearance, the birds nesting on Torishima and the Senkaku Islands differ enough genetically to be classified as separate species, the researchers said.
According to the Environment Ministry, there are 3,000 short-tailed albatrosses living in Japan.
Another species, the black-footed albatross, is prevalent in seas around Japan, but only the short-tailed albatross is protected by the government. The short-tailed albatross has a wingspan of about 2.5 meters.
Since Torishima is an active volcanic island, the ministry has been moving some albatross chicks from Torishima to Mukojima in the Ogasawara Islands, about 350 kilometers away, to increase their numbers. However, the ministry said it had not studied their genes.
Some short-tailed albatrosses are believed to have flown from the Senkaku Islands to Torishima, but it is not known if they are interbreeding.
“To conserve gene diversity, an examination of the birds’ genes should be conducted as soon as possible to prevent interbreeding,” said Masaki Eda, associate professor of Tottori University, who was involved in the research.
(Oct. 10, 2011)
October 2011: There are far fewer species on Earth – just two million – than widely believed and it is possible to discover them all this century, according to Associate Professor Mark Costello from The University of Auckland’s Leigh Marine Laboratory: here.