|Cape presentation display of superba and niedda. The visual form of this display is the quintessential feature of courtship in the genus Lophorina. |
(A, C, E) Lophorina superba (Forster, 1781)
(B, D, F) Lophorina niedda Mayr, 1930
in Scholes & Laman, 2018.
The birds-of-paradise (Aves: Paradisaeidae) are a quintessential example of elaborate ornamental diversification among animals. Ornamental evolution in the birds-of-paradise is exemplified by the presence of a highly integrated courtship phenotype, which is the whole package of plumage ornaments, behaviors and sounds that each species uses during courtship. Characterizing a species’ courtship phenotype is therefore a key part of evolutionary and taxonomic investigation in the group. With its unprecedented transmogrification from bird-like form into something abstract and otherworldly, the courtship phenotype of the Superb Bird-of-Paradise, Lophorina superba, is one of the most remarkable of all. Recent research by Irestedt et al. (2017) suggests that the genus Lophorina is not a single species but is likely a complex of three allopatric species spanning the island of New Guinea: L. niedda in the Bird’s Head Peninsula of the west, L. superba throughout the central cordillera and L. minor in the Papuan Peninsula of the east. Of these, niedda is the most phenotypically divergent with plumage traits hypothesized to possibly produce differences in ornamental appearance during display. However, the whole courtship phenotype of niedda has not been documented and so the actual extent of differences in ornamental appearance during courtship remain unknown. Here we analyze the first audiovisual recordings of niedda and compare its courtship phenotype with superba to test the hypothesis of potential differences in ornamental appearance. Our main goals are to: (1) provide the first description of the courtship phenotype of niedda in the wild, (2) determine if and how the niedda courtship phenotype differs from superba and (3) evaluate any uncovered differences in light of niedda’s newly recognized species status. Our secondary goal is to provide a more thorough characterization of courtship phenotype diversity within the genus Lophorina to facilitate future comparative study within the genus and family. Results show that the niedda courtship phenotype differs substantially from superba in numerous aspects of ornamental appearance, display behavior and sound. We highlight six key differences and conclude that the new species status of niedda is corroborated by the distinctly differentiated ornamental features documented here. With full species status, niedda becomes the fourth endemic bird-of-paradise to the Bird’s Head region of Indonesian New Guinea (i.e., the Vogelkop Peninsula), a fact that underscores the importance of this region as a center of endemic biodiversity worthy of enhanced conservation protection.
Given the substantial differences in so many aspects of the niedda courtship phenotype combined with the acute geographic isolation of niedda populations from superba populations, leaves little doubt that niedda deserves full species status as proposed by Irestedt et al. (2017).
The species validity niedda underscores the importance of Indonesian New Guinea’ Bird’s Head and Bird’s Neck eco-regions (i.e., the Vogelkop Peninsula) as a center of endemic biodiversity that deserves particular attention from the conservation community. Among birds-of-paradise alone, L. niedda now joins the three other montane species endemic to the region (Astrapia nigra, Paradigalla longicuda, and Parotia sefilata) and opens the door for additional systematic scrutiny of the entire avifauna of the Bird’s Head (Vogeklop) region, including the other birds-of-paradise at middle and upper elevations (e.g., Drepanonris albertisi and Epimachus fastosus). Given that the Bird’s Head region was the first part of New Guinea to be ornithologically explored, and discovery of new species of birds-of-paradise was the main driver of exploration, it is surprising that the distinctive features of the niedda courtship phenotype, and therefore the species status of this unique population, have remained elusive for so long. Yet this fact underscores the need for continued exploration of New Guinea’s forests and further systematic investigation of all taxa, including those like the avifauna which are often considered to be relatively well known.
Edwin Scholes and Timothy G. Laman. 2018. Distinctive Courtship Phenotype of the Vogelkop Superb Bird-of-Paradise Lophorina niedda Mayr, 1930 Confirms New Species Status. PeerJ. 6:e4621. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.4621
Martin Irestedt, Henrique Batalha-Filho, Per G. P. Ericson FLS, Les Christidis and Richard Schodde. 2017. Phylogeny, biogeography and taxonomic consequences in a bird-of-paradise species complex, Lophorina–Ptiloris (Aves: Paradisaeidae). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 181(2); 439–470. DOI: 10.1093/zoolinnean/zlx004