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Biol Lett. 2010 Feb 23;6(1):112-5. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0545. Epub 2009 Sep 23.

DNA from a 100-year-old holotype confirms the validity of a potentially extinct hummingbird species.

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  • 1New York State Museum, Albany, NY 12230, USA.


We used mtDNA sequence data to confirm that the controversial 100-year-old holotype of the Bogotá sunangel (Heliangelus zusii) represents a valid species. We demonstrate that H. zusii is genetically well differentiated from taxa previously hypothesized to have given rise to the specimen via hybridization. Phylogenetic analyses place H. zusii as sister to a clade of mid- to high-elevation Andean species currently placed in the genera Taphrolesbia and Aglaiocercus. Heliangelus zusii, presumed extinct, has never been observed in nature by biologists. We infer that the species occupied a restricted distribution between the upper tropical and temperate zones of the northern Andes and that it was most probably driven to extinction by deforestation that accompanied human population growth during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We demonstrate the feasibility of obtaining DNA from nearly microscopic tissue samples from old hummingbird specimens and suggest that these methods could be used to resolve the taxonomy of dozens of avian taxa known only from type specimens.

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