In 1957, researchers from the University of Toronto spotted a strange bird living in the Amazonian rainforest. The species, called the golden-crowned manakin, was different from any known species due to its distinctive yellow plumage. After a close analysis, scientists discovered it was actually a hybrid, the first such species to be discovered in the Amazon area.
The golden-crowned manakin is the first hybrid born in the Amazon
Since the strange bird didn’t seem to fit into any existing species, researchers decided to perform a genetic analysis on it and see where it came from. This is how they discovered it was actually a hybrid between two other species. The bird was the offspring of snow-capped manakins and opal-crowned manakins. This is unusual, as hybridization among vertebrates is extremely rare.
However, the findings are interesting from another point of view as well. The golden-crowned manakin lives quite far away from the species which birthed it. Researchers explained this through a separation which might have occurred during the ice age, when the Amazon river split the rainforest.
In fact, this isolation might have brought the new manakin species into being. It might happen that two different species mate and brought a new one into being, but this doesn’t actually live in the same geographical area as its parents. Therefore, this was an essential condition for the golden-crowned manakin to exist for a longer period of time.
The genetic study revealed how evolution worked on the manakin species
For this study, researchers collected feathers from the manakin, and performed a genetic sequencing. This is how they found out that 80 percent of its genome was taken from the snow-capped species, while the remaining came from the opal-crowned one. Also, they established that the first specimen was born about 180,000 years ago.
The parents’ feathers are white and iridescent, while those of the offspring are yellow and non-reflective. After the genetic study and a keratin examination, researchers established how a combination of the parents’ traits resulted in the non-iridescent property. Also, the feathers must have been white at first, but evolution turned them yellow.