The genomic analysis of 198 species of birds has almost completely filled in the bird tree of life.
Researchers drew relationship among 198 species among the 10,000 known in the world.
The new research is very significant because it is providing insights on how the modern birds evolved from the original three dinosaurs lineages that has survived the great extinction over 66 million years ago.
“This represents the beginning of the end of avian phylogeny. In the next five or 10 years, we will have finished the tree of life for birds,” said Rick Prum, the William Robertson Coe Professor of ornithology, Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and the senior author of the study.
The historical origins of ostriches, ducks, emus and chicken have come to light in the past few decades. But these huge findings didn’t help in unveiling the evolutionary history of 90 percent of the contemporary birds in the Neoaves group. Early ancestors of thousands of these species are believed to have evolved suddenly and rapidly a few million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs.
The main aim of the scientists was to understand the Neoaves species that overrules about 90 percent of the bird species. Birds not included in the study were ostriches and a group, including chickens and ducks.
But these new findings uncovered complicated relationships between the birds in the Neoaves group. For instance, besides cranes and ducks most of the world’s water birds are closely related, suggesting the moved across the globe in “aquatic niches” following the extinction of the dinosaurs instead of evolving from multiple lineages as was previously believed.
Another discovery brought to light that hummingbirds likely developed from nocturnal bird species, and the ancient ancestor of the innocuous cardinal and woodpecker was actually a ferocious predatory bird.
“Once we have the complete tree, we can start to study the patterns and processes that have given rise to all the amazing diversity of living birds. That’s when the fun really begins,” Prum concluded.