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Mesozoic roots of parrots and passerine birds



From: Ben Creisler
bh480@scn.org

A new paper available for free that may interest the DML:

Alexander Suh, Martin Paus, Martin Kiefmann, Gennady 
Churakov, Franziska Anni Franke, Jürgen Brosius, Jan Ole 
Kriegs & Jürgen Schmitz (2011) 
Mesozoic retroposons reveal parrots as the closest living 
relatives of passerine birds.
Nature Communications 2: 443 
doi:10.1038/ncomms1448 
http://www.nature.com/ncomms/journal/v2/n8/full/ncomms1448
.html

The relationships of passerines (such as the well-studied 
zebra finch) with non-passerine birds is one of the great 
enigmas of avian phylogenetic research, because decades 
of extensive morphological and molecular studies yielded 
highly inconsistent results between and within data sets. 
Here we show the first application of the virtually 
homoplasy-free retroposon insertions to this controversy. 
Our study examined ~200,000 retroposon-containing loci 
from various avian genomes and retrieved 51 markers 
resolving early bird phylogeny. Among these, we obtained 
statistically significant evidence that parrots are the 
closest and falcons the second-closest relatives of 
passerines, together constituting the Psittacopasserae 
and the Eufalconimorphae, respectively. Our new and 
robust phylogenetic framework has substantial 
implications for the interpretation of various 
conclusions drawn from passerines as model organisms. 
This includes insights of relevance to human 
neuroscience, as vocal learning (that is, birdsong) 
probably evolved in the psittacopasseran ancestor, >30 
million years earlier than previously assumed.