23/04/2013
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Pitta species almost double

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The form of Red-bellied Pitta from Baggai and Sula, Indonesia, is now a full species, Sula Pitta E dohertyi. Illustration: Keulemanns (1899).
The form of Red-bellied Pitta from Baggai and Sula, Indonesia, is now a full species, Sula Pitta E dohertyi. Illustration: Keulemanns (1899).


A new wide-ranging analysis of the forms of Red-bellied Pitta Erythropitta erythrogaster from the Indo-Pacific region has revealed that the species is actually comprised of a complex of up to 17 species, ranging across Indonesia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.

From the days of Alfred Russell Wallace, the Indonesian archipelago and its neighbours in the Indo-Pacific region have been know as a key hot-spot of biodiversity, and new and novel species are still being discovered and uncovered there. One of the most well distributed species in the region is Red-bellied Pitta E erythrogaster, but this species varies much in plumage and song across the many islands of the region.

A team  analysed 139 specimens of this variable form including all 28 described subspecies, using two mitochondrial and two nuclear genes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a complex phylogenetic relationship was uncovered, revealing the presence of a probable 17 species in the archipelago.

The new species are:

1. Philippine Pitta - E erythrogaster (including erythrogaster, propinqua and 'thompsoni')
2. Talaud Pitta - E inspeculata
3. Sulu Pitta - E yairocho
4. Sula Pitta - E dohertyi
5. Siao Pitta - E palliceps
6. Sangihe Pitta - E caeruleitorques
7. Sulawesi Pitta - E celebensis
8. Buru Pitta - E rubrinucha
9. Seram Pitta - E piroensis
10. Louisiade Pitta - E meeki
11. Moluccan Pitta - E rufiventris (including rufiventris - in turn inlcuding 'obiensis' - cyanonota, bernsteini)
12. New Ireland Pitta - E novaehibernicae (including novaehibernicae and extima)
13. New Britain Pitta - E gazellae
14. Tabar Pitta - E splendida
15. Habenicht's Pitta - E habenichti
16. D’Entrecasteaux Pitta - E finschii
17. Papuan Pitta - E macklotii (including macklotii - in turn including 'aruensis'/'kuehni' - loriae - in turn including 'oblita' - and digglesi)

The split will take the recognised world total of pitta species from 28 to 44.

Reference
Irestedt, M, Fabre, P-H, Batalha-Filho, H, Jønsson, K A, Roselaar, C S, Sangster, G, and Ericson, P G P. 2013. The spatio-temporal colonization and diversification across the Indo-Pacific by a 'great speciator' (Aves, Erythropitta erythrogaster). Proceedings of the Royal Society B 280: 20130309.
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