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Pelecaniform and ciconiiform birds, origin and niche stability

From: Ben Creisler

A new online paper that may be of interest:

Gillian C. Gibb, Martyn Kennedy & David Penny (2013)
Beyond Phylogeny: Pelecaniform and Ciconiiform Birds, and Long-Term
Niche Stability.
Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution (advance online publication)

Phylogenetic trees are a starting point for the study of further
evolutionary and ecological questions. We show that for avian
evolutionary relationships, improved taxon sampling, longer sequences
and additional data sets are giving stability to the prediction of the
grouping of pelecaniforms and ciconiiforms, thus allowing inferences
to be made about long-term niche occupancy. Here we report the
phylogeny of the pelecaniform birds and their water-carnivore allies
using complete mitochondrial genomes, and show that the basic
groupings agree with nuclear sequence phylogenies, even though many
short branches are not yet fully resolved. In detail, we show that the
Pelecaniformes (minus the tropicbird) and the Ciconiiformes (storks,
herons and ibises) form a natural group within a seabird
water-carnivore clade. We find pelicans are the closest relatives of
the shoebill (in a clade with the hammerkop), and we confirm that
tropicbirds are not pelecaniforms. In general, the group appears to be
an adaptive radiation into an ‘aquatic carnivore’ niche that it has
occupied for 60-70 million years. From an ecological and life history
perspective, the combined pelecaniform–ciconiform group is more
informative than focusing on differences in morphology. These findings
allow a start to integrating molecular evolution and macroecology.