25/02/2011
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Madagascar produces another new bird species.

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The new species of Madagascan wood rail was unknowingly photographed at the Bemaraha Tsingy National Park in 2007. Photo: James Williams.
The new species of Madagascan wood rail was unknowingly photographed at the Bemaraha Tsingy National Park in 2007. Photo: James Williams.

Examination of two new specimens of wood rail from western Madagascar has resulted in a new species being named.

Madagascar Wood Rail Mentocrex kioloides is an endemic terrestrial rail, found throughout much of the forested areas of the world's fourth largest island. Two subspecies have been formally named: M k berliozi found in the deciduous-humid forests of the north-west, and the nominate form from the humid central and eastern forests.

A wide-ranging examination of genetic and morphological differences has now revealed that birds from the unique tsingy forest on the limestone karst areas of the western central lowlands are differentiated enough to be described and named as a new species.

A male type specimen was collected from the Forê>t de Beanka in Mahajanga province in October 2009 and, along with a female paratype from the Parc National de Bemaraha in the same province, was used for both DNA and biometric comparison with the two known subspecies. The new species, M beankaensis, proved larger than the two M kioloides subspecies, having a longer wing, tail and tarsus. It is distinguished by a rufous throat and moustachial stripe extending right up to the eye and a grey forehead.

Three genes - one whole and two partial - were amplified in the genetic analysis, and showed that M beankaensis is basal to both kioloides forms and is as distant from the latter as many other sister species pairs are from each other.

M beankaensis is found at altitudes of 100 to 320 m in Madagascar's limestone karst areas, typified by the presence of many sharp limestone pinnacles and ridges, and lives among the dry deciduous trees in the canyons and gulches there, a forest-type known locally as tsingy. The new form appears to be range-restricted to this habitat on the Bemaraha Massif, most of which is a national park, but not enough is known to assess the bird's conservation status as yet.

The new species has yet to be given an English name, though one suspects that Western Wood Rail might be in the offing. The authors have also supported the species' removal from the Afro-tropical genus Canirallus and its placement in the Madagascan endemic genus Mentocrex.

Reference: Goodman, S M, Raherolalao, M J, and Block, N L. 2011. Patterns of morphological and genetic variation in the Mentocrex kioloides complex (Aves: Gruiformes: Rallidae) from Madagascar, with the description of a new species. Zootaxa 2,776: 49-60.

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