Scientists to build the avian tree of life

April 11, 2018

Birds are the only surviving descendants of dinosaurs. Birds also are used to study a large range of fundamental topics in biology from understanding the evolution of mating systems to learning about the genetic and environmental factors that affect their beautiful plumages.

Although birds are often studied by scientists and enjoyed by millions of birdwatchers, a complete description of the evolutionary relationships among all 10,560 bird species has not been possible. With the support of the National Science Foundation, scientists have embarked on a large-scale project to build the evolutionary tree of all bird species using cutting-edge technologies to collect DNA from across the genome. This project, called OpenWings, will produce the most complete evolutionary tree of any vertebrate group to-date. Because this research will take several years to complete, the project will also release data to the public as they are generated for use by any scientist, citizen or professional, for their own research.

"A better understanding of an evolutionary tree of all birds will be transformative for the fields of ornithology and evolutionary biology particularly as biologists integrate data to these trees from other large projects, like the NSF-sponsored oVert Collection Network, the European Research Council-sponsored MarkMyBird project and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's eBird," said Brant Faircloth, LSU Department of Biological Sciences assistant professor and one of the investigators for the OpenWings project.

In addition to generating and releasing the data publicly, the OpenWings researchers will use the new tree to evaluate a number of ideas about how, when and where birds diversified and those processes responsible for the current distribution of worldwide avian diversity.

"A complete evolutionary tree constructed with cutting-edge data and all bird species represents an unprecedented resource for the research community. Our understanding of the evolution of birds may be re-written in the coming years," said Brian Smith, American Museum of Natural History assistant curator of birds and an investigator on the project.

The OpenWings Project is a collaborative research project led by scientists from the American Museum of Natural History, Australian National Wildlife Collection, Bell Museum of Natural History, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Bruce Museum, Field Museum of Natural History, LSU, LSU Museum of Natural Science, University of Florida, University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, University of Minnesota, Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Geological Survey Biological Survey Unit and University of Washington.
-end-


Louisiana State University

Related Evolution Articles from Brightsurf:

Seeing evolution happening before your eyes
Researchers from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg established an automated pipeline to create mutations in genomic enhancers that let them watch evolution unfold before their eyes.

A timeline on the evolution of reptiles
A statistical analysis of that vast database is helping scientists better understand the evolution of these cold-blooded vertebrates by contradicting a widely held theory that major transitions in evolution always happened in big, quick (geologically speaking) bursts, triggered by major environmental shifts.

Looking at evolution's genealogy from home
Evolution leaves its traces in particular in genomes. A team headed by Dr.

How boundaries become bridges in evolution
The mechanisms that make organisms locally fit and those responsible for change are distinct and occur sequentially in evolution.

Genome evolution goes digital
Dr. Alan Herbert from InsideOutBio describes ground-breaking research in a paper published online by Royal Society Open Science.

Paleontology: Experiments in evolution
A new find from Patagonia sheds light on the evolution of large predatory dinosaurs.

A window into evolution
The C4 cycle supercharges photosynthesis and evolved independently more than 62 times.

Is evolution predictable?
An international team of scientists working with Heliconius butterflies at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama was faced with a mystery: how do pairs of unrelated butterflies from Peru to Costa Rica evolve nearly the same wing-color patterns over and over again?

Predicting evolution
A new method of 're-barcoding' DNA allows scientists to track rapid evolution in yeast.

Insect evolution: Insect evolution
Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have shown that the incidence of midge and fly larvae in amber is far higher than previously thought.

Read More: Evolution News and Evolution Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.