Can biological traits predict diversification rates in birds?

June 20, 2006

Why do some taxanomic families contain many species and others contain far fewer? There has been much debate in the scientific community over the reason for such variation, but a recent study in The American Naturalist by Albert B. Phillimore (Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus), Robert P. Freckleton (Oxford University), C. David L. Orme (Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus), and Ian P. F. Owens (Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus) identifies the two biological traits in birds that account for most of the variation: dispersal and feeding generalization.

"Few studies have looked at ecological traits such as dispersal and feeding generalization as explanations for variation in rate of diversification, perhaps because these traits are challenging to quantify," says Phillimore. "Hopefully our findings may stimulate research into the role played by ecological traits in the diversification of other types of organisms."

The study found that bird families with high seasonal dispersal rates and very general feeding patterns also had the highest species diversification rates.
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Albert B Phillimore, Robert P. Freckleton, C. David L. Orme, and Ian P. F. Owens. "Ecology predicts large-scale patterns of phylogenetic diversification in birds." The American Naturalist 167:7.

University of Chicago Press Journals

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