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Scientists assemble new tree of life for contemporary birds


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The largest and most full examine of recent fowl genomes thus far has resulted within the reconstruction of the fowl household tree, difficult conventional views on the evolutionary historical past of birds.

The study revealed within the journal Nature combines the genomic information of greater than 360 fowl species with information from almost 200 fowl fossils. It’s the result of almost a decade of analysis involving scientists from throughout the globe engaged on the Bird 10,000 Genomes Project (B10K), which goals to sequence the entire genomes of each residing fowl species.

“Our study has resolved some previous disputes about the bird family tree and added new nuance to the textbook knowledge of bird evolution,” says lead writer Josefin Stiller, a biologist on the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

Divergence times for 363 bird species based on 63430 intergenic loci. Credit josefin stiller
Divergence instances for 363 fowl species primarily based on 63,430 intergenic loci. Credit: Josefin Stiller

There are about 10,000 species of residing birds which kind 3 main clades. About 5% of species belong to both the Palaeognathae – which incorporates flightless species just like the ostrich, cassowary, and emu – or the Galloanseres, which embrace landfowl and waterfowl.

The different 95% of all fowl species kind a 3rd numerous clade: the Neoaves.

This latest examine signifies most Neoaves appeared inside a really small evolutionary window of solely 5 million years, throughout a interval of speedy diversification following the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction occasion 66 million years in the past.

Dr Jacqueline Nguyen, avian palaeontologist on the Australian Museum and Flinders University and co-author of the examine, says that “by combining evidence from nearly 200 bird fossils [they] were able to pinpoint an extremely important period of bird diversification that happened immediately after the extinction of the dinosaurs.”


A photograph of a man and a woman, surrounded by taxidermised birds of many species
Evolutionary bioligist, Professor Simon Ho, from the University of Sydney, and avian palaeontologist Dr Jacqueline Nguyen, from the Australian Museum and Flinders University, surrounded by a group of fowl specimens on the Australian Musem in Sydney. Credit: James Alcock/Australian Museum.

The staff discovered that this timeframe coincided with exceptional genetic and morphological adjustments amongst birds, together with higher mutation charges, smaller physique sizes, and bigger brains, and bigger efficient inhabitants sizes.  

“This illustrates the power of comparative genomics: by comparing genomes of living species, we can uncover traces of events that happened 66 million years ago,” provides Stiller.

The findings additionally give scientists the clearest image of the fowl household tree to date, significantly throughout the Neoaves. The new tree challenges the earlier organisation of Neoaves by re-classifying it into 4 main sub-groups: Mirandornithes, Columbaves, Telluraves, and a newly proposed group the researchers have named ‘Elementaves’.

Relationships for 363 bird species based on 63430 intergenic loci. Credit josefin stiller
Relationships for 363 fowl species primarily based on 63,430 intergenic loci. Credit: Josefin Stiller

Inspired by the 4 components of earth, air, water and hearth, the group consists of birds which are profitable on land, within the sky, and in water – like penguins, pelicans, hummingbirds, and shorebirds.

“Our work has changed many traditional views on the evolutionary history of birds,” says Guojie Zhang, senior writer of the paper and professor of evolutionary biology in Zhejiang University, China.

“This new family tree will serve as a solid backbone for mapping the evolutionary history of all bird species with important implications for ornithological research and biodiversity studies.”

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