A group of scientists set out on a six-week expedition near Sulawesi, Indonesia, in hopes of learning more about the region's bird population. What they discovered was far more exciting — undiscovered bird species.
Frank E. Rheindt, a professor from the University of Singapore, led the team through three small islands. They trekked through miles of forest, identifying dozens of birds along the way.
Shortly into the trip, the group began to encounter birds they had never seen before. Over the six weeks, the scientists discovered five new songbird species and five new subspecies.
Rheindt and others published their findings in the journal Science to share the discoveries.
To put the news into perspective, only five or six new bird species have been discovered each year since 1999. Within a few weeks during their November 2013 expedition, the scientists in Indonesia filled that avian quota.
They visited three islands during their trip; Taliabu, Peleng and Batudaka. Among the avian species discovered were leaf-warblers, grasshopper-warblers, myzomela, fantail and jungle flycatchers.
The team chose the three islands specifically after researching bathymetry, the science of sea level depth. They determined the sea level depth around the islands was enough that species living on them would have remained isolated during an ice age or other global climate events.
The area's isolation, along with neglect from previous explorers, led Rheindt and his group to explore the islands, based on the higher probability they might harbor undiscovered species.
The researchers explained in their findings that using similar methods to single out other unseen regions around the world could lead to the discovery of even more unknown species.
As they scoured the jungle, the scientists used a tried-and-true method to track the birds. They listened for their songs and followed close by until they were able to find them.
Once located, they collected specimens of the birds and recorded their songs. They used the DNA samples and songs to determine whether they were new species or subspecies.
Findings like this prove that some of the world's biodiversity is still hidden away.
"Some of the 10 newly described species and subspecies of bird are already seriously endangered," Rheindt told MNN. "Both islands suffer from extreme levels of forest loss: on Peleng mostly through burgeoning village communities with an ever-growing demand for timber and land, and on Taliabu mostly through commercial logging operations that have logged most areas multiple times over."
Rheindt and the group of researchers behind this study hope that discoveries aside, their findings can bolster the argument for conservation efforts.
"I definitely believe that the world needs a renewed impetus in biodiversity discovery," Rheindt told MNN. "In the year 2019, a worldwide environmental crisis, driven by habitat loss and climate change, entered its main stage, resulting in abrupt spikes in biodiversity extinction at a speed that is unprecedented for this planet. We can only protect what we know, and our efforts to safeguard the world’s remaining organismic diversity will strongly depend on our knowledge of this biodiversity."