New thrush species named after Salim Ali

Ornithologist Salim Ali finally has a bird species named after him.

By Roopak Goswami in Guwahati
  • Published 22.01.16
Himalayan forest thrush. Picture courtesy: Craig Brelsford

Guwahati, Jan. 21: Ornithologist Salim Ali finally has a bird species named after him.

The bird - Himalayan forest thrush ( Zoothera salimalii) - has been reported from the Northeast and adjacent parts of China by a team of scientists from Sweden, India, China, the US and Russia.

"The bird's scientific name honours the great Indian ornithologist Salim Ali (1896-1987) and his huge contribution to the development of Indian ornithology and wildlife conservation. This is the first Indian bird which has been named after Ali," Sashank Dalvi, who currently works at the Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore, said.

Since 2000, an average of five new species per year have been discovered globally, most of which are from South America. The Himalayan forest thrush is only the fourth new bird species reported from India since 1947.

A statement issued today by the team of scientists said Dr Per Alstrom and Dalvi first discovered the Himalayan forest thrush in May-June, 2009, while studying birds at higher elevations of western Arunachal Pradesh.

It was realised that what was considered a single species, the plain-backed thrush ( Zootheramollissima), was in fact two different species.

"What first caught the attention of scientists was the fact that the plain-backed thrush in the coniferous and mixed forests had a rather musical song, whereas birds found in the same region, but in bare rocky habitat above the treeline, had a much harsher and unmusical song," the statement said.

Studies of specimens in 15 museums in seven countries revealed consistent differences in plumage and structure between birds from these two populations. It was confirmed that the species breeding in the forests of the eastern Himalayas had no scientific name.

"They have, therefore, named this new species the Himalayan forest thrush ( Zoothera salimalii).

The high-elevation plain-backed thrush is now renamed the Alpine thrush while it retains the scientific name of Zootheramollissima.

Further analysis of plumage, structure, song, DNA and ecology from throughout the range revealed that a third species was present in central China. While this population was already known, it was treated as a subspecies of the plain-backed thrush. The scientists have, instead, called it Sichuan forest thrush. The song of the Sichuan forest thrush was found to be even more musical than that of the Himalayan forest thrush.

DNA analysis suggested that these three species have been genetically separated for several million years. Genetic data from three old museum specimens indicated the presence of a fourth species from China that remains unnamed.

Future field studies are required to confirm this. "The Himalayan forest thrush is common. It has been overlooked until now because of its close similarity in appearance to the Alpine thrush," the statement said.