New study reveals globe-trotting pedigree of South Asian songbirds

  • South Asia is house to 24 other species of bulbuls, a circle of relatives of songbirds for which a brand new genetic research displays an evolutionary historical past stretching again to the Southeast Asian archipelago and ahead into Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.
  • In each and every area the place the birds happen, climatic and environmental components have formed their evolution, leaving some species in India with extra similarities to their Southeast Asian cousins than to their South Asian opposite numbers.
  • This diversification within the bulbul circle of relatives tree didn’t forestall when they moved from Southeast Asia to South Asia, and if truth be told persisted as they dispersed around the Center East and into Africa, in addition to “island-hopped” to Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands.

COLOMBO — The wealthy variety of bulbuls in South Asia can also be traced so far as the Sundaland area of Southeast Asia, within the islands that as of late make up Indonesia and Malaysia, a brand new find out about displays.

Bulbuls, the Pycnonotidae circle of relatives of fruit-eating songbirds, quantity greater than 150 species all through Asia and Africa, with 24 in South Asia, part of them endemic to the area. Genetic research now shows that those South Asian bulbuls hint their origins to Sundaland, coming in different waves of colonization that crossed thru mainland Southeast Asia to get to the Indian subcontinent.

“When those bulbuls’ genetic identities are positioned at the international bulbul evolution tree, they are compatible into other spots suggesting that those species occupied South Asia at other time sessions,” stated Ashish Jha, lead writer of the brand new find out about and a researcher on the Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species in Hyderabad, India.

The red-whiskered bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus) is a quite common hen in India. Symbol courtesy of Ashish Jha.

Jha and his colleagues when put next the genetics of the South Asian bulbuls basically with their Asian cousins to recreate a tree of evolution and map different components to review their phylogeny, or how they advanced through the years. Knowledge for some South Asian endemic bulbuls have been lacking from the prevailing international phylogeny of bulbuls, so the group used the to be had genetic information and supplemented it with genetic information of endemic species from India and Sri Lanka.

The researchers put a different focal point at the roots of the area’s endemic bulbul species, which developed according to particular climatic and environmental prerequisites.

“As soon as all of the Indian peninsula was once coated below wet and humid wooded area, however round 12 million years in the past throughout post-Miocene generation, it all started to show dry,” Jha informed Mongabay. “This fast aridification limited rainforests within the area most commonly to prime elevations, ensuing within the participants of bulbuls that were given remoted in those spots to conform as separate species.”

Molecular relationship displays the oldest of the South Asian bulbuls are the striated bulbul (Pycnonotus striatus) and mountain bulbul (Ixos mcclellandii) of the Himalayas, and the yellow-throated bulbul (P. xantholaemus), and the white-browed bulbul (P. luteolus) of peninsular India, which diverged throughout the past due Miocene (11.63 million to five.33 million years in the past). The endemic bulbuls of India’s Western Ghats diverged from their sister species throughout the Pliocene, round 5.33 million to two.58 million years in the past.

The oldest endemic species within the peninsular area are the yellow-throated bulbul of India’s Deccan area and Sri Lanka’s yellow-eared bulbul (P. penicillatus). “Each those species don’t have a intently similar sister taxa, so they’re distinctive within the tree of evolution,” Jha stated.

The red-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) is a commonplace sight all through South Asia, now and again construction its nests within properties. Symbol courtesy of Ashish Jha.

The African connection

The find out about additionally established that South Asian bulbuls belonging to the Pycnonotus genus colonized Africa throughout the Pliocene, shifting in the course of the Arabian Peninsula and the Center East, whilst the ones from the Hypsipetes genus “island-hopped” their technique to Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands throughout the early Pleistocene, about 2.58 million to twelve,000 years in the past.

Nowadays, there are two Hypsipetes species in South Asia: the black bulbul (Hypsipetes leucocephalus) within the Himalayas, and the square-tailed bulbul (H. ganeesa) discovered within the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka.

“Many would think that the Himalayan species is sister species with the Western Ghats and Sri Lankan square-tailed bulbul, however it’s if truth be told associated with the Philippine bulbul [H. philippinus], while the square-tailed bulbul was once discovered to be intently associated with the Madagascar bulbul [H. madagascariensis],” Jha informed Mongabay.

The yellow-throated bulbul (Pycnonotus xantholaemus), probably the most oldest South Asian bulbul species in relation to its evolutionary historical past. Symbol courtesy of Ashish Jha.

“Those permutations throughout the bulbul circle of relatives lead them to an excellent type to know native in addition to regional variety whilst finding out long-term affects related to local weather and geological adjustments through the years to species,” stated find out about co-author Sampath Seneviratne from the University of Colombo.

For instance, in Sri Lanka, the yellow-eared bulbul is some of the commonplace hen within the central highlands, happening even in house gardens and concrete spaces. However at elevations not up to 1,200 meters (4,000 ft), they only disappear. Likewise, the square-tailed bulbul is quite common in rainforests and now and again present in house gardens, however is absent in spaces with out rainforest. Against this, probably the most well-liked hen in Sri Lanka is the red-vented bulbul (P. cafer), which nests on rental balconies and is relaxed in city environment.

The yellow-eared bulbul (Pycnonotus penicillatus) is endemic to Sri Lanka and is often discovered within the hill nation. Symbol courtesy of Evarts Ranley.

Many fresh science publications have seemed into how the fast aridification and different environmental components that performed out thousands and thousands of years in the past have contributed to the colonization and evolution of South Asia’s biodiversity as of late.

“It’s attention-grabbing to review how other teams of animals reply to historic climatic and environmental adjustments,” Seneviratne stated, “as this is helping to know what is going to occur in long run, if an identical adjustments happen.”


Jha, A., Seneviratne, S., Prayag, H. S., & Vasudevan, Okay. (2021). Phylogeny identifies a couple of colonisation occasions and Miocene aridification as drivers of South Asian bulbul (Passeriformes: Pycnonotidae) diversification. Organisms Range & Evolution21(4), 783-794. doi:10.1007/s13127-021-00506-y

Banner symbol of a square-tailed bulbul (Hypsipetes ganeesa) present in India’s Western Ghats and Sri Lanka, which has sister species in Africa’s Madagascar islands. Symbol courtesy of Erich Joseph.