Ten new songbird species and subspecies have been identified on a trio of previously under-explored Indonesian islands in the largest discovery of its kind in more than a century, according to a new study.

Hidden away on the remote Wallacean islands of Taliabu, Peleng and Batudaka, close to where British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace independently developed the theory of evolution to Charles Darwin, five new bird species and five subspecies were detected. 

Although birds are among the most comprehensively documented animal classes, with only a handful of new species identified each year, the pioneering methodology used in the study, published in the journal Science, has raised the prospect of further discoveries around the world. The researchers concentrated their efforts on the islands of Taliabu and Peleng due to their likely high biodiversity because of their genetic isolation over the last few million years.

Approximately 86% of existing species on Earth and 91% of species in the ocean are believed to await formal scientific description, but researchers fear that much of the world’s biodiversity is at risk of disappearing before it can be identified.

Although the new species and subspecies have only just been formally identified, researchers warned that rampant forest destruction on the islands caused by logging and forest fires driven by the climate crisis threaten the survival of the birds.

In the last 20 years, only 161 new species of birds have been found worldwide, with even fewer in restricted geographic areas. There are roughly 11,000 recognised bird species, yet it is believed many more remain to be discovered.

Of the new species, the Peleng fantail is identifiable by the distinct black scaling below it black breast patch, its clean white throat and unique courtship vocalisation. The Taliabu grasshopper warbler, also conspicuous for its vocalisations, has fine dusky speckling which increases toward its breast and lower throat. The scarlet-bodied Taliabu myzomela inhabits forest canopy and was photographed feeding at flowers. The Taliabu leaf warbler, which has been scientifically named after a former Indonesian environment minister, is most notable for its entirely lemon underparts. Finally, the Peleng leaf warbler is identifiable by its lack of both a central crown stripe and wingbars, and its lemon-yellow underparts contrasting with a white throat.

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