Scientists Reveal The Most Comprehensive Bird Family Tree Ever

Posted: Oct 8 2015, 8:00am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 8 2015, 9:23pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Scientists Reveal the Most Comprehensive Bird Family Tree Ever
Courtesy of Yale University

The research provides new insight into how all modern birds evolved.

How did all of the modern birds evolve?

This is a difficult question, but a group of scientists led by Yale University attempted to answer it as comprehensively as possible. They have recently provided the most detailed account of the bird family tree ever, based on the genome analysis of 198 living bird species. 

The new research shed light on the evolutionary relationship among the 10,000 species in the world and connects them with the help of genome wide data.

“This represents the beginning of the end of avian phylogeny,” Rick Prum, professor of Ornithology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and lead author of the study said. 

The historical origins of many birds including ostriches, emus, ducks and chickens had been established earlier but there was no clue about the evolutionary history of 90% of all modern birds and this group is called “Neoaves.” The early ancestors of Neoves appeared to have evolved suddenly within a few million years after the extinction of dinosaurs.

The new research offers hundreds of fascinating stories about the origin of bird species such as cardinals and woodpeckers evolved from a hawk-like ancestor. Hummingbirds and swift have great eyesight. The reason of their remarkable vision is their ancestry as they arose from nocturnal ancestors or the birds that were active at night.

"This raises questions about how they see so well," Yale University ornithologist Richard Prum said. "Was color vision maintained in all those nocturnal birds for more than 10 million years?”

Most of aquatic birds in the world like pelicans, gulls and cranes are also closely linked to each other. The research suggests that one lineage of birds immediately adapted to the watery environment after the extinction of dinosaurs some 66 million years ago.

"It means that all of these aquatic birds may have evolved from a single common ancestor, as opposed to evolving an aquatic ecology multiple times independently.” Cornell University ornithologist Jacob Berv said.

Birds evolved from small featured dinosaurs. The earliest was the crow-sized Archaeopteryx which lived 150 million years ago. Bird was the only branch of dinosaurs that was able to survive an asteroid hit the earth millions of years ago and wiped out the giant creatures. The three lineages of bird, which survived at that time, were responsible for the evolution of all the modern birds.

"Living birds have a very long and complex history. Any attempt to understand their biology at a broad scale requires an understanding of this deep historical context," said Berv .

"It's critical to every area of bird biology. How they act, where they live, what they look like, how they communicate: it's all linked to how they evolved in relation to each other."


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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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