|Subdesert Mesite, Ifaty, 4 November 2003|
Saturday, 13 December 2014
Bird Genomes, Bird Phylogeny—and Mesites
Science this week (12 December) carries a series of articles and eight papers on a major bird genome project. The whole genomes of 48 species of have been sequenced by a very large and international group of authors. Using massive computing power they have obtained a new phylogenetic tree that completely destroys some traditional groupings while throwing up or confirming interesting relationships between modern species.
An example of the latter is the close relationship between the mesites—the very peculiar birds endemic to Madagascar—and the sandgrouse, the common ancestor of which, according to the results, split from the doves. In turn, the closest relations of this entire group (Columbimorphae) are the flamingos and grebes (Phoenicopteromorphae).
Another confirmation of earlier findings on smaller parts of the genomes is that Birds-of-prey—the old Falconiformes—are blown asunder. That other strange bird, the hoatzin that is shown on the cover, emerges as most closely related to the plovers and cranes.
This is the summary of the phylogeny from the paper:
The origins of the work lie in trying to find the genes responsible for vocal learning in birds but the study so far, as I have just touched the surface of, has far wider implications for all that we know about birds. The radiation of modern birds, now grouped as the Neoaves, which occurred from nearly 70 until 50 million years ago, is really only now being revealed.
However, there is still some uncertainty, as might be expected from the number of species in which the genome has been sequenced; where the owls fit in is one example. The genomes of other species are apparently on the way to join the original findings in another round of number crunching.