Five new bird species discovered in Indonesia


This video series is called Birds of Wallacea.

From the National University of Singapore:

Novel avian species: 10 new bird taxa in islands of Wallacea

January 10, 2020

Summary: A research team found five bird species and five subspecies new to science in three small island groups off Sulawesi, Indonesia. The islands are situated in Indonesia’s Wallacea region, an archipelago at the interface between the Oriental and Australian biogeographical realms, named after Sir Alfred Wallace.

Birds are the best-known class of animals, and since 1999, only five or six new species have been described each year on average. Recently, a joint research team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) made a quantum leap in the discovery of cryptic avian diversity by uncovering five bird species and five subspecies new to science.

The team, led by Associate Professor Frank Rheindt from the Department of Biological Sciences at NUS Faculty of Science, found the birds in three small island groups off Sulawesi, Indonesia. The islands are situated in Indonesia’s Wallacea region, an archipelago at the interface between the Oriental and Australian biogeographical realms, named after Sir Alfred Wallace, who was the most famous historical collector exploring the area.

The results of the study, which were published in the journal Science on 10 January 2020, provide evidence that our understanding of species diversity of complex areas such as Wallacea remains incomplete even for relatively well-known groups such as birds. The findings also suggest that modern exploration to find undescribed species diversity can be targeted to areas of high promise.

Insights from paleo-climatology and history guided discovery of new taxa

Sea depth is an important and long-neglected factor in determining the distinctness of an island’s terrestrial communities. The Earth undergoes periods of glacial-interglacial cycles, leading to the formation of land bridges between shallow islands during ice ages, allowing fauna of the different islands to interbreed. Deep sea islands, which have always been isolated, and high elevation islands are more likely to harbour endemism due to absence of land connections even during glacial cycles.

Guided by this knowledge, Assoc Prof Rheindt and his team concentrated their research efforts on the islands of Taliabu and Peleng, which are located off the north-eastern coast of Sulawesi, as bathymetric data indicate the presence of deep sea between these islands and Sulawesi.

The research team also examined the accounts of historic collectors such as Sir Alfred Wallace, and sought to focus on parts of Wallacea that had received the least coverage by historic collectors, as these areas would hold the highest promise of harbouring undescribed avian diversity.

The islands that the team targeted were characterised by such incomplete historic coverage: Taliabu and its neighbours, together forming the Sula group, were only briefly visited by eight historic collecting expeditions, all of which remained in coastal areas and failed to penetrate the highlands of the interior because of poor accessibility; and Peleng and the remaining islands of the Banggai group were visited along their coastline by only three historic collectors who never ventured far uphill into the interior.

New taxa found

Assoc Prof Rheindt and his team undertook extensive fieldwork in the three remote islands for six weeks, from November 2013 to January 2014, and collected 10 new, long-overlooked avian forms.

By integrating genomic and phenotypic research methodologies, the team successfully described five new songbird species and five new subspecies:

  • On Taliabu, they found three new species: the Taliabu Grasshopper-Warbler, the Taliabu Myzomela and the Taliabu Leaf-Warbler; as well as three subspecies: the Taliabu Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Taliabu Island Thrush and Sula Mountain Leaftoiler.
  • On Peleng, two new species — the Peleng Fantail and the Peleng Leaf-Warbler — and a new subspecies — the Banggai Mountain Leaftoiler — were discovered.
  • On Togian, a new subspecies — the Togian Jungle-Flycatcher — was found.

“Studying the routes and operations of historic collecting expeditions and identifying gaps has been a fruitful approach to pinpoint focal areas in our case. The description of this many bird species from such a geographically limited area is a rarity,” shared Assoc Prof Rheindt.

He added, “Going forward, the use of earth-history and bathymetric information could also be applied to other terrestrial organisms and regions beyond the Indonesian Archipelago to identify promising islands that potentially harbour new taxa to be uncovered.”

Implications for conservation

During the expedition, the research team found that both Taliabu and Peleng have suffered from rampant forest destruction. There is virtually no primary lowland forest on both islands, and most highland forests have been impacted by some form of logging or forest fires.

“While most of the avifauna we described seems to tolerate some form of habitat degradation and is readily detected in secondary forest and edge, some species or subspecies are doubtless threatened by the immense levels of habitat loss on these islands. As such, urgent, long-lasting conservation action is needed for some of the new forms to survive longer than a couple of decades beyond their date of description,” said Assoc Prof Rheindt.

Poached green turtles set free again


This 11 December 2019 video says about itself:

Indonesia police released more than 20 adult green sea turtles on December 10, 2019, after the animals were reportedly rescued from poachers. The endangered turtles, which are a protected species in Indonesia, were found under the floorboards of a ship during a routine patrol of waters near the country.

Oldest storytelling art discovery in Indonesia


This part of a newly described ancient hunting scene includes a miniature buffalo, or anoa (right), facing five faint human-animal figures wielding spears or ropes, a study finds. M. Aubert et al/Nature 2019, R. Sardi

By Bruce Bower, 11 December 2019:

A nearly 44,000-year-old hunting scene is the oldest known storytelling art

The panel was found in an island cave in Indonesia

An Indonesian cave painting that shows wild animals encountering otherworldly hunters represents the oldest known example of art depicting lifelike figures as well as of visual storytelling, researchers say.

Discovered in December 2017 on the island of Sulawesi, this roughly 4.5-meter-wide hunting scene was painted at least 43,900 years ago, says a team led by archaeologists Maxim Aubert and Adam Brumm, both of Griffith University in Gold Coast, Australia. Part-human, part-animal hunters depicted in the mural indicate that people at the time believed in supernatural beings, the scientists report December 11 in Nature.

“We assume these ancient artists were Homo sapiens and that spirituality and religious thinking were part of early human culture in Indonesia,” Brumm says.

Two pigs and four miniature buffalo called anoas, which still inhabit Sulawesi forests, range across the cave art scene. Eight small, humanlike figures with animal characteristics appear to be hunting the painted pigs and anoas with spears or ropes. One hybrid creature sports a tail. Another has a beaklike snout.

Mythical human-animal hybrids, also known as therianthropes, often appear in folklore and in fiction of modern societies. Many religions regard therianthropes as gods, spirits or ancestral beings. Figurines of a lion-headed person (SN: 5/19/09) and a woman with exaggerated features previously found in a German cave date to as early as 40,000 years ago, as do flutes made of bone and mammoth tusks found in the same cave (SN: 6/24/09). A drawing of a man with a bird’s head inside France’s Lascaux cave dates to between around 14,000 and 21,000 years ago.

Abstract cave art generally attributed to H. sapiens dates to at least 40,800 years ago in Europe (SN: 6/14/12). In other Sulawesi caves studied by Aubert and Brumm, wall stencils that Stone Age people made by blowing or spraying pigment around outstretched hands date to around 40,000 years ago (SN: 10/8/14). Researchers had reported evidence of European Neandertals creating abstract cave art at least 65,000 years ago, but those reports have come under fire (SN: 10/28/19).

Measures of radioactive uranium’s decay in mineral layers that formed over parts of the Sulawesi hunting depiction provided minimum age estimates ranging from 35,100 to 43,900 years. The oldest mineral layer comes closest to the painting’s actual age, the researchers say.

If confirmed in further research, that age estimate makes sense, says archaeologist Nicholas Conard of the University of Tübingen in Germany. Art, music, religion and language characterize modern human groups worldwide, and the same would have held for Stone Age groups, asserts Conard, who directed excavations of the ancient figurines and flutes in Germany. …

Figurative paintings in several other Sulawesi caves have been found but not yet dated, Brumm says. Nearly all these artworks, including the hunting scene, have deteriorated substantially. “We urgently need to determine why this art is disappearing and what to do about it.”

This 3 December 2019 video is about the new discovery.

Indonesian coral reefs video


This 12 November 2019 video says about itself:

Indonesia’s Coral Reefs

In the second installment of National Geographic’s “Into Water” 360 series, dive into the crystal clear waters of Indonesia with marine social ecologist and National Geographic Explorer Shannon Switzer Swanson. More than a quarter of the world’s aquarium fish population comes from Indonesia. Shannon works with local communities, documenting fishing practices. She is hoping to learn why some fishing families have developed sustainable practices while others have not. “Into Water: Indonesia” is the second stop on an around the world 360 tour that documents the work of female Explorers who’ve dedicated their careers to water-related issues.

While many conservation plans focus on only environmental indicators for success, a new coral reef program is trying a relatively new approach: focusing on both social and ecological processes and outcomes to ensure a long-term future for coral reef systems: here.

Bat faeces and biodiversity in Indonesia


This 2015 video says about itself:

Bat Man of Borneo | Expedition Raw

Braving guano, urine, and infectious diseases is all in a day’s work for bat ecologist Donald McFarlane, who descends into the depths of Borneo’s Gomantong Caves [in Malaysia] to study the bats that live there.

From James Cook University in Australia:

Holy Pleistocene Batman, the answer’s in the cave

Let’s say you wanted to solve a 20,000-year-old mystery, where would you start?

April 25, 2019

Summary: Examining a 3-meter stack of bat feces has shed light on the landscape of the ancient continent of Sundaland. The research could help explain the biodiversity of present-day Borneo, Sumatra, and Java. It could also add to our understanding of how people moved through the region.

Let’s say you wanted to solve a 20,000-year-old mystery, where would you start? Perhaps archaeology and geology come to mind. Or, you could sift through a 3-metre pile of bat faeces.

Researchers from James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, chose the bat poo in their quest to answer to a long-standing question: why is there some much biodiversity on the islands of Sumatra, Borneo and Java, when not so long ago (geologically speaking) they were all part of one vast continent?

One theory has been that the former continent (Sundaland) was dissected by a savanna corridor. “That might explain why Sumatra and Borneo each have their own species of orang-utan, even though they were linked by land for millions of years,” Dr Chris Wurster said. “The corridor would have divided the two separate rainforest refuges, as the sea does now.”

The corridor theory has been boosted by millions of insect-eating bats, which have gathered evidence about the landscape over millennia and deposited it in layers in their caves.

“Bat poo is highly informative, and especially so in the tropics, where the climate can make some of the more traditional modes of investigation less available,” Dr Wurster said.

A three-metre pile of bat faeces at Salah Cave in Borneo gave the researchers a 40,000-year-old record composed of insect skeletons.

“We can’t tell what insects the bats were eating throughout that time, because they’re in tiny fragments, but we can read the chemistry,” Dr Wurster said.

“Eating insects that have been feeding on tropical grasses results in faeces with a characteristic chemical imprint. It’s quite different from the result you’d get from eating insects that fed on tropical trees.”

According to the bat record the landscape around Saleh Cave (now featuring lush rainforest) was once dominated by tropical grasses.

“Combined with other cave studies in the region, this leads us to support the corridor theory, and also gives us some confidence as to the extent of the corridor,” Dr Wurster said.

The corridor could also shed light on human pre-history.

“A savanna corridor, which would be much more easily traversed than rainforest, might help to explain how people moved relatively quickly through this region and on to Australia and New Guinea.”

‘Savanna in equatorial Borneo during the late Pleistocene’ is published in the latest edition of Scientific Reports.

Dr Chris Wurster is a Senior Research Associate at James Cook University, specialising in stable isotope geochemistry.

Wallace’s giant bee rediscovered


This 21 February 2019 video says about itself:

Watch the world’s biggest bee in action | Science News

After searching Indonesia’s forests for days for Wallace’s giant bee, scientists found and captured a single female and observed her flying within a net tent. They then released her and watched as she flew home to her nest in a termite mound.

By Jeremy Rehm, 2:31pm, February 21, 2019:

The world’s largest bee has been rediscovered after 38 years

The walnut-sized female bee was found on an island in Indonesia

Everything about Wallace’s giant bee is goliath: It reaches an average body length of around 4 centimeters — about the size of a walnut — and has a wingspan of over 7.5 centimeters. Yet despite its eye-popping size, it’s been nearly 40 years since the world’s largest bee (Megachile pluto) was officially sighted in the wild.

So when Eli Wyman, an entomologist at Princeton University, had an opportunity to hunt for the elusive bee, he jumped at the chance. He and two other scientists, along with photographer Clay Bolt, set off in January for a two-week expedition to forests on two of only three Indonesian islands where the bee has ever been found.

It’s thought that the females build a home by using their formidable jaws to burrow into termite nests and line the tunnels with resin to ward off termites. So while trekking in the oppressive jungle heat, the team stopped at every termite nest spotted on the trunk of a tree and watched for 20 minutes for a telltale bore hole or a bee emerging.

“After several days of searching and looking at a lot of these termite nests and not seeing anything, I think we all kind of internally just accepted that we weren’t going to be successful,” Wyman says.

As the search was ending, the team decided to check one last nest only about 2.4 meters off the ground — and found the signature hole. Wyman, standing on a small platform, glanced inside and tapped the hole a few times with a stiff blade of grass. Moments later, a lone female Wallace’s giant bee emerged.

“We were just all over the moon,” Wyman says. “It was a great relief and incredibly exciting.”

The team captured the female and put her inside a tented enclosure to observe her before releasing her back to her nest. She buzzed and opened and closed her enormous jaws. And yes, she had a stinger to match her goliath size, one she presumably uses, though Wyman wasn’t willing to find that out firsthand. “She was the most precious thing on the planet to us,” Wyman says.

The nonprofit organization Global Wildlife Conservation, which included Wallace’s giant bee on its 25 Most Wanted lost species list, announced the bee’s rediscovery February 21. While there are no set plans to look for more bees, the team hopes the rediscovery sparks efforts to protect the habitat from deforestation. In a blogpost, Bolt noted: “Just knowing that this bee’s giant wings go thrumming through this ancient Indonesian forest helps me feel that, in a world of so much loss, hope and wonder still do exist.”

GOLIATH OF BEES A honeybee’s size pales in comparison to that of a the recently rediscovered Wallace’s giant bee, as seen in this composite image by Clay Bolt