New species of bird for Borneo found in Brunei

Researchers from Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) recently announced the discovery in Brunei of a species of bird never before recorded on Borneo. This brings the total number of bird species on Borneo to 674.

Professor Ulmar Grafe, a professor of Biology from the Faculty of Science (FOS), UBD explained that the species is a Slaty-legged Crake or Rallina eurizonoides, as it is called scientifically. "This shy and secretive bird occurs on the Asian mainland, in the Philippines and the islands of Sulawesi and Sumatra, but has never officially been recorded on Borneo", he stated. "New species discoveries aren't an every-day event", he added, "and we are very excited about this finding in Brunei".

Professor Erik Meijaard and Rona Dennis of Borneo Futures, a Brunei-based, scientific consultancy group, who found the species explained the unusual circumstances in which they located it. "We were driving towards the local recycling station with our tins and plastic", Rona mentioned, "when I saw a dead bird lying by the side of the road, with a bright orangey-red patch.

Rona and Erik took some photos but initially left the bird where it was. Only after their return home when they consulted bird guide books and shared their photos on social media, did they realize how important this find was. "There is a similar-looking bird, which is quite common on Borneo", Erik explained, "which is called the Red-legged Crake". Only on closer inspection of the photo did Rona and Erik realize that the slaty-grey legs indicated they had found something unusual.

They quickly returned to where they had seen the bird, which had likely been hit and killed by a car, and collected the specimen. Next, they informed Professor Grafe, who is the curator of the UBD Natural History Museum (UBDM), and always interested in obtaining specimens from Borneo. The new bird is now kept at the UBDM for further study.

Professor Grafe explained how important it is that the public is involved in monitoring and recording Brunei's biodiversity. "This thrilling discovery shows once again how little we know about the natural world in which we live and how there is still so much to discover." He added that the museum at UBD is always interested in any specimens the public can contribute, including road kills. "It helps us so much to document what species live in Brunei and to show the world how incredibly rich this country is in biodiversity." The discovery comes just days after Brunei was ranked number one globally in terrestrial biomes by the Environmental Performance Index compiled every two years by American ivy-league universities Yale and Columbia.

Dr Siti Salwa Abd Khalid, from UBD's Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Research (IBER), is keen to learn more about the Slaty-legged Crake in Brunei. "The strange thing is", she said, "that the species was discovered in June, which is outside the bird migration season." Normally birds that are rarely seen on Borneo arrive here from mainland Asia during the northern winter when they migrate south and may get lost along the route. A species record in June, however, may indicate that the Slaty-legged Crake is actually residential on Borneo now. Because the species has an unusual call, she intends to make sound recordings in the area where it was discovered to see if more birds of that species occur. "It is an exciting time to be a biologist", Salwa said.

As is commonly done with rare bird sightings, the location of the find has not been revealed. Rare species sometimes attract bird poachers who think there is money to be made from catching and selling the birds.

The next step in terms of research will be to conduct DNA tests and verify whether the Brunei specimen is most closely related to the populations on the Asian mainland or maybe the Philippines or Indonesian islands.

Biodiversity research is one of UBD's main research thrusts, contributing towards sustainable use and conservation of tropical biodiversity and ecosystems. Recent studies revealed over 160,000 trees from more than 1,000 different species exist within a 25-hectare forest dynamics plot at UBD's premier international field research facility, the Kuala Belalong Field Studies Centre (KBFSC). Records of new plant, animal, and microbial species discovered from the Sultanate continue to expand significantly. Bioprospecting of novel chemicals and therapeutic agents, environmental studies and research on marine biodiversity are also key strengths of biodiversity research at UBD.

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