Christopher R. Cooney, Jen A. Bright, Elliot J. R. Capp, Angela M. Chira, Emma C. Hughes, Christopher J. A. Moody, Lara O. Nouri, Zoë K. Varley & Gavin H. Thomas (2017)
Mega-evolutionary dynamics of the adaptive radiation of birds.
Nature (advance online publication)
The origin and expansion of biological diversity is regulated by both developmental trajectories and limits on available ecological niches. As lineages diversify, an early and often rapid phase of species and trait proliferation gives way to evolutionary slow-downs as new species pack into ever more densely occupied regions of ecological niche space. Small clades such as Darwin’s finches demonstrate that natural selection is the driving force of adaptive radiations, but how microevolutionary processes scale up to shape the expansion of phenotypic diversity over much longer evolutionary timescales is unclear. Here we address this problem on a global scale by analysing a crowdsourced dataset of three-dimensional scanned bill morphology from more than 2,000 species. We find that bill diversity expanded early in extant avian evolutionary history, before transitioning to a phase dominated by packing of morphological space. However, this early phenotypic diversification is decoupled from temporal variation in evolutionary rate: rates of bill evolution vary among lineages but are comparatively stable through time. We find that rare, but major, discontinuities in phenotype emerge from rapid increases in rate along single branches, sometimes leading to depauperate clades with unusual bill morphologies. Despite these jumps between groups, the major axes of within-group bill-shape evolution are remarkably consistent across birds. We reveal that macroevolutionary processes underlying global-scale adaptive radiations support Darwinian and Simpsonian ideas of microevolution within adaptive zones and accelerated evolution between distinct adaptive peaks.
Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar (2017)
Evolution: Catastrophe triggers diversification.
Nature (advance online publication)
An analysis of more than 2,000 species of bird provides insight into how the animals' diverse beak shapes evolved, and points to a single rare event as a trigger for the rapid initial divergence of avian lineages.
J. Jordan Price & Simon C. Griffith (2017)
Open cup nests evolved from roofed nests in the early passerines.
Royal Society Proceedings B 2017 284 20162708
The architectural diversity of nests in the passerine birds (order Passeriformes) is thought to have played an important role in the adaptive radiation of this group, which now comprises more than half of avian species and occupies nearly all terrestrial ecosystems. Here, we present an extensive survey and ancestral state reconstruction of nest design across the passerines, focusing on early Australian lineages and including members of nearly all passerine families worldwide. Most passerines build open cup-shaped nests, whereas a minority build more elaborate domed structures with roofs. We provide strong evidence that, despite their relative rarity today, domed nests were constructed by the common ancestor of all modern passerines. Open cup nests evolved from enclosed domes at least four times independently during early passerine evolution, at least three of which occurred on the Australian continent, yielding several primarily cup-nesting clades that are now widespread and numerically dominant among passerines. Our results show that the ubiquitous and relatively simple cup-shaped nests of many birds today evolved multiple times convergently, suggesting adaptive benefits over earlier roofed designs.