The Liberian Greenbul was first recorded as being spotted in a forest during the early 1980s, but has escaped the search of experts for decades.
Now University of Aberdeen scientists believe the bird is actually a common Iceterine Greenbul, but with an unusual plumage variant caused by poor nutrition.
The ornithologists decided they had discovered a new species. For the last 30 years or so, the specimen has remained the sole evidence of Liberian greenbul’s existence. Liberia’s civil war made followup expeditions difficult, but surveys in 2010 and 2013 turned up no signs of the species.
Now, scientists have an explanation for the bird’s elusiveness. It never existed.
New DNA analysis by experts at the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland, suggests the specimen’s genome isn’t significantly different than that of the Icterine greenbul. Researchers hypothesized that the sole specimen is likely just an Icterine greenbul with an odd plumage variation, possibly caused by a nutritional deficiency.
Previous surveys have measured significantly genetic differences among other species of greenbul, offering further proof that the Liberian greenbul and Icterine greenbul are indeed the same.
“The Liberian Greenbul has gained almost ‘mythical’ status since it was sighted in the ’80s,” Martin Collinson, a geneticist from the University of Aberdeen’s Institute of Medical Sciences, said in a news release. “We can’t say definitively that the Liberian Greenbul is the same bird as the Iceterine Greenbul but we have presented enough evidence that makes any other explanation seem highly unlikely. The genetic work was performed independently by scientists here in Aberdeen and in Dresden to make sure there could be no error — we both came to the same conclusion.”
West Africa’s Cavalla Forest, where the single Liberian greenbul specimen was collected, is treasured as a haven of biodiversity. It is of ecological significant to a variety of threatened bird species.