August 18, 2008—A fiery throated bird spotted in the jungles of Gabon several years ago (and pictured above) is a new African forest robin species, DNA studies prove.
The bird's distinguishing feature is its olive-colored backside, said John Gibbons, a spokesperson for the Smithsonian Institution, who noted that four other forest robin species have similar throat coloring.
Smithsonian scientists noticed the bird—dubbed Stiphrornis pyrrholaemus or olive-backed forest thrush—while conducting the first ever biodiversity assessment of an oil-rich area in southeastern Gabon.
The government of Gabon and Shell Gabon are partners in the assessment, said Alfonso Alonso, director of the Smithsonian's biodiversity program in Gabon.
"What we want to do is to help [the goverbment and the oil company] integrate biodiversity knowledge into operations so the impact on the environment can be minimized," Alonso told National Geographic News.
Geneticists at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., compared the newly identified bird's DNA to that of four known forest robins to establish the olive-backed forest robin as a separate species.
The findings appear in the current issue of the international science journal Zootaxa.
The discovery of new animal species is rarer these days than it used to be.
Brian Schmidt, the researcher who found the bird in Gabon, said in a press release that the discovery "is definitely a reminder that the world still holds surprises for us."