Creating genetic portrait of every animal results in discovery of 15 bird species

Fifteen extra species of birds and six bats have been identified in a project aimed at creating a "genetic portrait" of every animal on Earth.

Each of the birds had been observed many times by residents and visiting ornithologists but only genetic finger-printing revealed them as previously unknown species.

Until scientists analysed the DNA of the birds they had been assumed to be exactly the same as visually similar but genetically different species.

"People have watched birds for so long we might think every different tweet has been heard, every different colour form observed," said Paul Hebert, who led the research. "But we found there are a number of cases of deep genetic divergences within what are currently called single species. Given the intensity with which people have looked at the birds we were surprised at the number that had been overlooked," reports Times Online.

According to Victoria Times Colonist, The project, part of a larger Canadian-led effort to create a DNA "bar-code" profile of every living thing on Earth, involved the collection of thousands of individual specimens and the creation of genetic portraits for each of 643 bird species between the Canadian Arctic and the Florida Keys -- nearly the entire inventory of 690 known breeding species in Canada and the U.S.

Work continues on compiling DNA profiles of the remaining 47 birds, as well as several extinct species available only from museum collections.

Other genetically distinct individuals, described as "provisional new bird species," were found among the following species: northern fulmar, solitary sandpiper, western screech owl, warbling vireo, Mexican jay, western scrub-jay, mountain chickadee, bushtit, winter wren, marsh wren, Bewick's wren, hermit thrush and curve-billed thrashe.

With today's technology, the process of DNA bar-coding requires about three hours and two or three pieces of equipment the size of dishwashers.

Dr. Hebert predicted that in 10 years, the process will take just minutes with a hand-held device the size of a global positioning system.

But will such portable and powerful technology take the fun and challenge out of birdwatching for the average Joe?

Absolutely not, Dr. Hebert said, informs Globe and Mail.

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