Researchers from Louisiana State University (LSU) have led an extensive project to reconstruct the family tree of the perching bird group, the largest order of birds. These are also called passerines or Passeriformes and include over 6,000 bird species. The project involved obtaining tissue and DNA samples from birds in this group from all over the world.
Obtaining Data for the Family Tree
Perching birds make up more than half of all bird species. Their other name, passerines, means sparrow-shaped. Some of the members of this order include sparrows, cardinals, and jays. The LSU researchers had a lot of work on their hands to construct a more accurate lineage of this group.
The project looked at 221 bird species, which came from 48 different countries. The LSU Museum of Natural Science’s Collection of Genetic Resources also provided 56 tissue samples. From these samples, DNA was extracted and sequenced. This information representing all the families in the passerine order was used to further the understanding of the relations between different passerine species.
The data from the project also helped to get a clearer picture of the timelines and process by which perching birds began to diversify. According to the findings, the factors behind the diversification of perching birds were colonization of new continents and changes in temperatures globally. Additionally, the team found some new factors not previously explored, and these help explain how the number of perching bird families have shot up from 46 to 137 in the last 30 years approximately. They attribute this to more complicated mechanisms that trigger rapid diversification at different points and times.
The study is published in PNAS under a project to reconstruct the evolutionary history of all bird species, which is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). It points to the importance of using both museum collections and new analytical technologies to explore biological family trees and histories.
Engaging Sentence: Scientists at Louisiana State University have come up with a family tree for one of the largest groups of birds.