After more than 50 years of studying the golden-crowned manakin, scientists have finally identified it to be an extremely rare hybrid that evolved to form its own distinct species.
Discovery of the golden-crowned manakin was made by Brazilian scientists Helmut Sick and Raimundo Costa in July 1957. They collected three adult males from a small tributary to the left of the upper Rio Cururu-ri located east of the Brazilian Amazon.
The holotype of the species is kept at the Museu Nacional Rio de Janeiro, while two specimens were sent to the American Museum of the National History and Museum für Naturkunde Alexander Humboldt.
Confusion Clouds Study Of Rare Amazon Bird Species
The golden-crowned manakin was formerly known as pipra. It was later changed to Lepidothrix vilasboasi, a name that pays tribute to the Villas-Boas brothers. The siblings were well-regarded activists known for their work with indigenous peoples of Brazil.
Confusion followed the discovery as scientists who wanted to return to the bird's habitat for further investigation could not determine its exact location. Apparently, there are two tributaries named Rio Cururu. The other tributary known as Cururu-acu is located further south.
A study states that as early as the 1950s, there were already suggestions that the golden-crowned manakin is a hybrid of the snow-capped and Opal-crowned species. However, scientists of that time were not able to prove this theory due to the lack of records.
The same study, which was authored by the scientists who rediscovered the species in 2002, also claimed that Sick and Costa made a mistake of identifying the birds they collected as three males. It was later found that one of them was female and another was a young male.
The rediscovery of the species offered the location of their habitats as well as how they behaved in flocks. Unfortunately, it also led to the finding that the golden-crowned manakin is vulnerable or endangered due to deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
DNA Analysis Shows Lepidothrix Vilasboasi Originated From Snow-Capped And Opal-Crowned Manakins
Now, a separate study by scientists from Toronto proves that although the three species of manakins may seem unrelated, the Opal-crowned and snow-capped species are indeed parents of the golden-crowned variety.
By studying DNA structures, scientists were also able to determine that the parent species produced a population of hybrid offsprings about 180,000 years ago. The hybrids thrived and survived by itself, later evolving into its own species with a modified DNA structure. Such caused the bird to grow a different color.
Aside from the DNA analysis, the crown of all three species was inspected under a microscope. This step showed that although the golden-crowned manakin's head is yellow in color, it has similar structures to its parent species.
"Hybrid speciation is rare in vertebrates, and reproductive isolation arising from hybridization is infrequently demonstrated," the study explains.