The identification of the Mohouidae family brings the number of endemic songbird (Passeriformes) families to five and increases the number of endemic vertebrate families from 13 to 14 (11 bird, 1 frog, 1 bat, 1 tuatara), researchers said.
The achievement has international significance, as the taxonomy of birds, especially Australasian songbirds, is the subject of intense research, Massey University postdoctoral fellows Dr Luis Ortiz-Catedral and Dr Michael Anderson said.
By conducting DNA sequencing of three species, two of them for the first time, the testing confirmed what had been suspected since the 1950s.
"Mohoua were clumped in the same genus for some time," said Ortiz-Catedral.
"But this was done without more stringent evidence. By obtaining DNA samples from all three species of these birds, we were able to add to the body of knowledge about New Zealand’s unique biodiversity," he said.
The Whitehead (Mohoua albicilla) or Po-pokotea is only found in native and exotic forests in the North Island, while the Yellowhead (Mohoua ochrocephala) or Mo-hua and the Brown Creeper (Mohoua novaseelandiae) or Pi-pipi are only found in the South and Stewart Islands, researchers said.
Anderson said that despite the differences in location, the Whiteheads and Yellowheads are more closely related to each other than the Brown Creepers.
The project to identify New Zealand's fifth endemic songbird family was a global collaboration between New Zealand, Australian and US-based scientists, and came about while Anderson was conducting comparative analyses on New Zealand cuckoos.
"We know very little about the Long-tailed Cuckoo, which parasitizes these three species, laying its eggs in their nests," he said.
"This research will help us to understand the evolutionary relationship between this brood parasite and its host species," said Anderson.


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