Jun 30 at 8:08pm by Aileen
Bird-watching is one of the most popular pastimes in the world, for people from all walks of life. Our fascination with birds in all their sizes, colors and habitats thus makes for a ready field of study in biology, where bird evolution used to maintain a fairly rigorous tree-of-life.
Not so much any longer, since researchers with the Early Bird Assembling the Tree-of-Life Project centered on the Field Museum examined DNA from all major living groups of birds and discovered that phylogenics had it all wrong!
As an indicator of just how wrong it was, DNA analysis has determined that falcons – those swift and trainable birds of prey – are NOT closely related to hawks and eagles. Whoa. Spokespersons for the project say the entire understanding of bird evolution will need to be re-written with this new information, and that information itself raises some further questions about concurrent and repeated evolution of certain traits at different times in different families.
“We now have a robust evolutionary tree from which to study the evolution of birds and all their interesting features that have fascinated so many scientists and amateurs for centuries,” Reddy said. “Birds exhibit substantial diversity (largest of the tetrapod groups), and using this ‘family tree’ wwe can begin to understand how this diversity originated as well as how different bird groups are interrelated.”