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Evolution of terrestrial birds in three continents: biogeography and parallel radiations

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Aim  To reconstruct the biogeographical history of a large clade of mainly terrestrially adapted birds (coraciiform and piciform birds, owls, diurnal raptors, New World vultures, trogons, mousebirds, cuckoo‐rollers, seriemas, parrots and passerines) to test the hypothesis of its Gondwanan origin.

Location  Global.

Methods  The phylogenetic tree used in the analysis was a family‐level tree estimated from previously published nuclear DNA sequence data. Each family for which a thorough and taxonomically well‐sampled phylogenetic analysis exists was subject to an initial dispersal–vicariance analysis in order to reconstruct ancestral areas for its two most basal lineages. Both basal lineages were then used to represent the family in the subsequent reconstruction of ancestral distributions for the entire radiation.

Results  The analysis showed that three reciprocally monophyletic groups of terrestrial birds have diversified in the Gondwanan land areas of Australia, South America and Africa, respectively. Although each of these three groups may also have originally included other groups, the only survivors today from the Australian radiation are the passerines and parrots, while the falcons and seriemas have survived from the South American radiation. The group of survivors from the African radiation is considerably more taxonomically diverse and includes all coraciiform and piciform birds, owls, diurnal raptors (except falcons), New World vultures, trogons, mousebirds and cuckoo‐rollers.

Main conclusions  The outlined evolutionary scenario with three geographically isolated clades of terrestrial birds is consistent with the available estimates of Late Cretaceous to early Palaeogene dates for these radiations. The diversifications and ecological adaptations within each of the three groups most likely took place in isolation on the different continents. Many cases of convergently evolved adaptations may be revealed through the increased understanding of the phylogenetic relationships of terrestrial birds.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Swedish Museum of Natural History, PO Box 50007, SE-10405 Stockholm, Sweden

Publication date: 2012-05-01

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