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Fastest evolving bird family produces new species

Discovered in the Solomon Island of Vanikoro, a new species of bird from the white-eye family leads credence to the belief that white-eyes are the world’s fastest evolving family of birds.

Announced in the scientific journal Ibis the new species, Vanikoro white-eye or Zosterops gibbsi, sports a distinct bill and unique colors on its legs and eye-rings.

“Genetic research has shown that white-eyes evolve new species faster than any known bird family,” orinthologist Guy Dutson of Birdlife Australia told the parents organization Birdlife International. “Islands only 3 kilometers apart in the Solomons have their own white-eye species, and the Solomon Islands alone have 13 species of white-eye. Like Darwin’s finches, these birds have evolved unique beak structures and feeding behaviours in the absence of competitors.”

The finches in the Galapagos, often called Darwin’s finches because they helped lead Charles Darwin to the theory of evolution, are another family of birds known for fast evolution.

In the crowded taxonomic order of Passeriformes birds from the white-eye family are identified by the ring of white around their eyes. As social birds, Dutson notes that they collected observations that suggest the new sspecies are involved in cooperative breeding, a behavior that is only seen in two other white-eyes.

“This new species forages in a slower, more methodical manner than similar white-eyes,” Dr. Dutson told Birdlife Interntional, “suggesting they have evolved into an empty niche”.

The greatest threat to the Vanikoro white-eye and other white-eyes in the Pacific Islands are invasive species like rats and logging of habitat.

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