New Bird Species in Idaho

i-fe56b8460d6373b28f56617ffb4950ce-crossbill.jpgNew Bird Species Found In Idaho, Demonstrates Co-evolutionary Arms Race

One does not expect to discover a bird species new to science while wandering around the continental United States. Nor does one expect that such a species would provide much insight into how coevolutionary arms races promote speciation. On both fronts a paper to appear in The American Naturalist proves otherwise.

Julie Smith, now at Pacific Lutheran University, and her former graduate advisor, Craig Benkman at the University of Wyoming, have uncovered strong evidence that coevolution has led to the formation of a species of bird new to science in the continental United States. Benkman discovered in 1996 what appears to be a new species restricted to two small mountain ranges in southern Idaho (the South Hills and Albion Mountains). This species is a morphologically and vocally distinct "call type" of red crossbill (Loxia curvirostra complex), which is a group of seed-eating finches specialized for extracting seeds from conifer cones.

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This is a most intriguing paper, one with a somewhat misleading title. Please note that although the authors emphasize ecological speciation in a population of Red Crossbills in the South Hills of Idaho based on coevolution with lodgepole pine and reproductive isolation from two other crossbill populations that frequent the region. This population may indeed be evolving away from parental-type Red Crossbills, but the authors fall short of formally describing it as a new species taxonomically distinct from the Red Crossbill; niether do they designate it as a new subspecies.

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