A new species of the fist-sized, babbler bird has been found in network of underground caves in southwestern China, raising the prospect the country could become a hot spot for other new discoveries, a conservation group said Thursday.
Ornithologists Zhou Fang and Jiang Aiwu first spotted the dark bird, which has with white specks on its chest, in 2005 and have since confirmed its identity as an undescribed species. They named it the Nonggang babbler, or Stachyris nonggangensis, for the area of China in which they discovered it.
A formal description was published last year in The Auk, which is the quarterly journal of the Virginia-based American Ornithologists' Union.
"This is exciting evidence that there could be many more interesting discoveries awaiting ornithologists in China," said Birdlife International's Nigel Collar, which announced the discovery.
The new species resembles a wren-babbler of the genus Napothera in that it prefers running to flying, and seems to spend most of its time on the ground foraging for insects between rocks and under fallen leaves, Zhou said. About 100 Nonggang babblers have been identified so far in the Nonggang Natural Reserve in southwestern China.
A similar habitat exists straddling the border of northern Vietnam and southeast Yunnan, China, and it is possible the species may also be found there, Zhou said.
"I'm very pleased to be able to make some contribution to the ornithology research by discovering Stachyris nonggangensis," Zhou said in a statement. "The discovery shows that there are still some birds that haven't been (identified) yet in China, such a vast territory that is rich in biodiversity."
Xi Zhinong, the founder of conservation group Wild China, said he was "very glad, excited and surprised" when he learned about a new bird being found.
Xi said finds like Zhou's and Jiang's are likely to become even more common in China as laymen join professionals in the search for new species.
"In recent years, more and more bird lovers and photographers are participating in the research of wild birds," Xi said. "Without a doubt, the participation of those nonprofessionals has pushed forward the research of wildlife in China."
But Zhou warned the country's rapid development and worsening pollution could threaten many biologically rich areas like the karst — a network of limestone sinkholes marked by underground streams and caverns — before further discoveries are made.
"The fragility of the karst ecosystem and its destruction by people pose great threats to the bird's existence," he said. "Research and conservation of the birds in this habitat is very urgent."