Birds Evolved in ‘Big Bang,’ New Family Tree Reveals

Dec 15, 2014

Credit: AAAS/Carla Schaffer

By Tanya Lewis

A new family tree of the world’s bird species may be the most complete one ever made, and reveals some surprising relationships, as well as showing how characteristics such as birdsong evolved.

More than 200 scientists at 80 institutions spent more than four years sequencing the genomes of bird species and analyzing them using supercomputers as part of a massive effort to reconstruct how birds evolved.

The new bird genealogy is the most comprehensive one to date in terms of the amount of genomic data and the scientific approaches used, said Erich Jarvis, a neurobiologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who led one of eight reports based on the findings published today (Dec. 11) in the journal Science.

In one finding, the analysis revealed that the common ancestor of a group called the core landbirds — which includes today’s songbirds, parrots and woodpeckers — was a top-level predator of its time, the researchers said.


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