A researcher IMEDEA (CSIC-UIB) is involved in the discovery of a new extinct species of owl in Madeira

  • An international team of scientists with the participation of IMEDEA (CSIC-UIB) has described a new fossil species of owl
  • The fossil of the "Otus mauli" belong to the first extinct bird of the archipelago of Madeira, unknown so far


Mallorca, 22nd March 2012. Twenty years ago, the German researcher Harald Pieper Madeira discovered the fossil of a small nocturnal bird of prey, which has not been studied in depth so far. An international team of paleornithologist has shown that the fossil belong to an extinct species of owl, hitherto unknown, which they name Otus Mauli.

"This is a species with very long legs and wings slightly shorter than those of continental European owls, from which it derives," says Josep Antoni Alcover, one of the authors of the study, researcher at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA) , a joint organization between the CSIC and UIB.

Analysis results of the fossil proportions, published in the journal Zootaxa, shows that the
Otus Mauli could have been species with terrestrial habits and their diet should consist of invertebrates, and "occasionally in some lizard or bird. "

"Their extinction may be related to the arrival of humans and animals that accompanied them," explains Alcover, who also emphasizes that its disappearance would be part of the pattern of extinction of island species that occurs in almost all the islands in the world.

According to investigators, one of the causes of extinction of this owl stands on the habitat destruction when Madeira suffered fires during the seven years following the arrival of the Portuguese. Moreover, with humans came new birds and strange diseases that affected to native species, and rats and mice that could prey on eggs of animals nests near the ground.

Unique to Madeira?

The same species, or one similar, has been documented in the dunes of Porto Santo, one of the islands of the archipelago of Madeira. "This is very interesting, says Alcover, but difficult to assess because the materials found are poor and fragmented."

"If the owls of Madeira and Porto Santo were different species of Otus,  flying ability from the Madeira archipelago would be lower than in continental owls. The distance between the two islands would have been enough to isolate them, "notes Alcover.

The homogeneity of the sizes of the owls of the two islands, as well as differences to European owls indicate that genetic isolation existed from continental populations. The distance between the mainland and the archipelago was sufficient for differentiation of the species.

It is expected to discover new species of birds in this archipelago in the near future. This  will document a world that has been missing for just a few hundred years. Also happen in the Azores, where there is already evidence of the existence of an owl different from Madeira and Europe, extinct as well "says scientist at IMEDEA.

Source: SINC

Caption: Drawing of the owl looking nowadays (left) and of the extinct species Otus Mauli at Madeira Island (right) Picture: Pau Oliver

Bibliographic reference:

Rando J. C.; Pieper H.; Alcover J. A.; Olson S. L. «A new species of extinct fossil Scops owl (Aves: Strigiformes: Strigidae: Otus) from the Archipelago of Madeira (North Atlantic Ocean)». Zootaxa 3182: 29-42, febrer 2012.