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Welcome To The List: Italian Sparrow Is A Species, Researchers Say

An Italian sparrow.
L. B. Tettenborn
An Italian sparrow.

Bird watchers, and other nature lovers, take note:

"Scientists in Norway say they have conclusive genetic evidence that sparrows recently evolved a third species," the BBC reports. "The Italian sparrow, they argue, is a cross between the ubiquitous house sparrow and the Spanish sparrow."

For those who understand such things as "homoploid hybrid speciation," there's a paper in the new issue of Molecular Ecology in which the researchers explain their findings.

We like the layman's language in the BBC report, though, which notes that DNA analysis shows the birds are a hybrid of the house sparrow and the Spanish sparrow — but that the Italian sparrows don't reproduce with their Spanish cousins, even though they often live nearby each other.

"So we think [the two species] have formed some kind of reproductive barrier to each other," Prof Glenn-Peter Saetre of the University of Oslo told the BBC. "Either the [Italian sparrows] just don't like the look of the [Spanish sparrows] or perhaps they have evolved a different breeding season."

And since different species tend not to interbreed, the researchers say the Italian sparrow deserves separate recognition.

Apparently, whether the Italian sparrow is or isn't species of its own has been a topic of debate among scientists for some time.

Want to see one? Along with Italy, it ranges from France, Spain and North Africa to parts of the Middle East and Asia.

(H/T NPR's Scott Neuman)

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.