“The first family tree linking all the world’s living birds, and what it reveals about the families in which species are evolving quickly.


Source: Walter Jetz, Gavin H. Thomas, Jeffrey B. Joy, Klaas Hartmann, Arne Mooers. 2012. The Global Diversity of Birds in Space and Time. Nature, 491: 444-448.

How cool is this? It’s the world’s first family tree linking all living birds. Scientists from Yale University, the University of Sheffield, the University of Tasmania, and Simon Fraser University used fossils and genetic data to estimate the ages of all bird families and assess how species diversity has accumulated through time.

Warm colors indicate families in which new species are evolving quickly, while cool colors connote families with lower diversification rates and fewer species. The outermost band marks the present; the distant past is at center. Concentric gray and white rings designate 20-million-year intervals.

The last 50 million years, the scientists report, have seen a strong increase in diversification rates, particularly among songbirds, waterfowl, gulls, and woodpeckers. In addition, bird species in the Western Hemisphere are evolving into new species faster than those in the Eastern Hemisphere — a surprising finding because conventional wisdom suggested that birds were most diverse in the tropics and became less diverse at higher latitudes.

The researchers say their work may help prioritize bird-conservation efforts. They published their study in November in the journal Nature.

More from Nature:
‘Tree of life’ constructed for all living bird species”



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