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Brendan Lynch
KU News Service
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Young scientist discovers new bird species in Peru's 'cloud forests'

Thu, 07/25/2013

LAWRENCE — A graduate student at the University of Kansas is the lead author on a recently published description of a new bird species, the Junin Tapaculo, found in the remote Andes Mountains of central Peru.

Following sightings by birders and leads fellow ornithologists, Peter Hosner, a doctoral student of ecology and evolutionary biology at KU, focused his fieldwork in Junin, a department in central Peru scarcely surveyed by ornithologists.

“We found the Junin Tapaculo in the field by its distinctive voice,” Hosner said. “I’d spent a lot of time traveling and working with birds in the Andes before I enrolled at KU, and I had never heard anything like it before. We made voice recordings and collected specimens that are needed in all scientific species descriptions. Tapaculos are extremely difficult to identify, so at this point we weren’t sure if it was a new species, or if we just happened to record a rarely given vocalization by an already described species.”

Because discoveries of new birds are rare, Hosner thought the vocalization might be a new sound from a bird already known to science. However, upon returning to Kansas, his quest for more information on the bird yielded nothing. Museum searches, consultations with experts and searches for archival sound recordings all pointed to the idea that Hosner may have uncovered a new species.

“In one archive, I found that birders had recorded the same unusual vocalizations, but on a different road about five kilometers away from our study site,” he said. “They had tentatively identified the recordings as a different species of tapaculo — a species which occurs in the same area. I also sequenced DNA and compared the sequences to known species. None matched. The appearance of the specimens, their unusual song and unique DNA convinced us it was new species — and I started writing up the description.”

Hosner’s paper on the new tapaculo appeared in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology last month.  His co-authors are Town Peterson, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and curator at the Biodiversity Institute at KU, Mark Robbins of KU’s Biodiversity Institute, and Thomas Valqui of the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science and the Centro de Ornitologia y Biodiversidad in Lima, Peru.

Hosner said the Junin Tapaculo is small and uniform blackish in color. It is notable for its habit of sticking its tail straight up in the air. In appearance and behavior, the birds are similar to wrens, even though they are not closely related. They have been described as mouselike and photophobic.

“Tapaculos are recognized by ornithologists and birders as one of the most difficult bird families to observe in the field,” said Hosner. “They tend to be found near the ground in areas of thick, tangled vegetation. They’re active and almost never stop moving. Even if you can’t see the birds themselves, you can usually locate them by the movement of vegetation in their wake. They’re most easily seen by playing recordings of their songs to coax them out into the open. Because of this behavior, frustrated observers have suggested that tapaculos behave more like mice than they do birds.”

The scientists report the bird’s range is limited to a specific band of elevation within the Andes Mountains — between about 8,000 and 10,500 feet.

“The eastern slope of the Andes is steep and densely forested,” said Hosner. “With increasing elevation, it gradually becomes colder and wetter, and the trees become shorter. These forests are commonly called ‘cloud forests’ because it’s frequently foggy. They are constantly damp, and moss and epiphytes, like orchids and bromeliads, cover everything. They are some of the most beautiful forests in the world. Along with the vegetation, bird communities in the Andes change with elevation. Moving a few thousand feet up or down results in an almost completely different list of bird species. In Junin, we found six different species of tapaculos at different elevations, ranging from tall forest down low to grasslands above tree line.”

However, asked what was the most difficult part of describing a new species — the first of his career — the young KU scientist didn’t cite the bird’s remote habitat or hard-to-find lifestyle.

“It’s the associated paperwork,” he said. “It’s endless.”



Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here: http://bit.ly/1awodaa
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

RT @kulibraries : Check out this news feature & then check out his book with us: http://t.co/gLNJxmtx1B #KULibraries #KUWorks https://t.co/L…
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: http://bit.ly/1awodaa Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.


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