Navigation Links
Scientists determine family tree for most-endangered bird family in the world
Date:10/20/2011

Using one of the largest DNA data sets for a group of birds and employing next-generation sequencing methods, Smithsonian scientists and collaborators have determined the evolutionary family tree for one of the most strikingly diverse and endangered bird families in the world, the Hawaiian honeycreepers.

Not only have the researchers determined the types of finches that the honeycreeper family originally evolved from, but they have also linked the timing of that rapid evolution to the formation of the four main Hawaiian Islands.

"There were once more than 55 species of these colorful songbirds, and they are so diverse that historically it wasn't even entirely clear that they were all part of the same group," said Heather Lerner, who was a postdoctoral researcher at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics when she conducted this research, and is currently an assistant professor of biology at Earlham College and Joseph Moore Museum director.

"Some eat seeds, some eat fruit, some eat snails, some eat nectar. Some have the bills of parrots, others of warblers, while some are finch-like and others have straight, thin bills. So the question that we started with was how did this incredible diversity evolve over time," Lerner said.

The answer is unique to the Hawaiian Islands, which are part of a conveyor belt of island formation, with new islands popping up as the conveyor belt moves northwest. Each island that forms represents a blank slate for evolution, so as one honeycreeper species moves from one island to a new island, those birds encounter new habitat and ecological niches that may force them to adapt and branch off into distinct species.

The researchers looked at the evolution of the Hawaiian honeycreepers after the formation of Kauai-Niihau, Oahu, Maui-Nui and Hawaii. The largest burst of evolution into new species, called a radiation, occurred between 4 million and 2.5 million years ago, after Kauai-Niihau and Oahu formed but before the remaining two large islands existed, and resulted in the evolution of six of 10 distinct groups of species characterized by different sizes, shapes and colors.

"This radiation is one of the natural scientific treasures that the archipelago offers out in the middle of the Pacific," said Helen James, a research zoologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and a co-author of the paper. "It was fascinating to be able to tie a biological system to geological formation and allowed us to become the first to offer a full picture of these birds' adaptive history."

James' previous work on Hawaiian birds' morphology, the branch of biology that deals with form and structure of organisms, played a pivotal role in determining which avian species to survey to determine the closest living relatives of the Hawaiian honeycreepers.

Using genetic data from 28 bird species that seemed similar to the honeycreepers morphologically, genetically or that shared geographic proximity, the paper's authors determined that the various honeycreeper species evolved from Eurasian rosefinches. Unlike most other ancestral bird species that came from North America and colonized the Hawaiian Islands, the rosefinch likely came from Asia, the scientists found.

"There is a perception that there are no species remaining that are actually native to Hawaii, but these are truly native birds that are scientifically valuable and play an important and unique ecological function," said Rob Fleischer, head of SCBI's Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics and a co-author of the paper.

Fleischer has been studying the genetics, evolution and conservation of these birds for more than 25 years. "I'm thrilled that we finally had enough DNA sequence and the necessary technology to become the first to produce this accurate and reliable evolutionary tree."

The diversity of Hawaiian honeycreepers has taken a huge hit, with more than half of the known 56 species already extinct. The paper's researchers focused on the 19now 18species that have not gone extinct, but of those, six are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, four are considered endangered and five are vulnerable.

The next, ongoing step in the research is to use museum specimens and subfossil bones to determine where the extinct species fit into the evolutionary family tree, or phylogeny, to see if the new lineages fit into the overall pattern found in this study.

To analyze the DNA for the study that came out this week, the researchers used specialized next generation sequencing protocols developed by Michi Hofreiter's group at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. To look at ancient DNA that is by nature damaged or degraded, they are using additional innovative techniques to capture the DNA and come up with a sufficiently informative dataset.


'/>"/>

Contact: Lindsay Renick Mayer
202-633-3081
Smithsonian
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Jefferson scientists deliver toxic genes to effectively kill pancreatic cancer cells
2. Scientists identify novel inhibitor of human microRNA
3. Argonne scientists peer into heart of compound that may detect chemical, biological weapons
4. MU scientists go green with gold, distribute environmentally friendly nanoparticles
5. Scientists identify gene that may contribute to improved rice yield
6. Scientists discover why a mothers high-fat diet contributes to obesity in her children
7. MU scientists see how HIV matures into an infection
8. Earth scientists keep an eye on Texas
9. Thinking it through: Scientists call for policy to guide biofuels industry toward sustainability
10. Scientists identify a molecule that coordinates the movement of cells
11. Scientists Find new migratory patterns for Mediterranean and Western Atlantic bluefin tuna
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:3/29/2016)... 2016 LegacyXChange, Inc. (OTC: ... SelectaDNA/CSI Protect are pleased to announce our successful effort ... variety of writing instruments, ensuring athletes signatures against counterfeiting ... from athletes on LegacyXChange will be assured of ongoing ... Bill Bollander , CEO states, "By ...
(Date:3/22/2016)... 22, 2016 According ... Market for Consumer Industry by Type (Image, Motion, ... (Communication & IT, Entertainment, Home Appliances, & ... to 2022", published by MarketsandMarkets, the market ... reach USD 26.76 Billion by 2022, at ...
(Date:3/21/2016)... , March 22, 2016 ... with passcodes for superior security   ... leading provider of secure digital communications services, today announced ... technology and offer enterprise customers, particularly those in the ... recognition and voice authentication within a mobile app, alongside, ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:5/27/2016)... and READING, England , ... Indegene ( http://www.indegene.com ), ein führender Anbieter ... die Life-Science-Branche, Pharmaunternehmen und Gesundheitsorganisationen, und TranScrip ... von innovativen wissenschaftlichen Support-Services für den gesamten ... IntraScience heute den Ausbau ihrer bestehenden Allianz ...
(Date:5/26/2016)... Despite the volatility that continues to ... Today,s pre-market research on ActiveWallSt.com directs the investor community,s focus ... RDUS ), Cerus Corp. (NASDAQ: CERS ), ... Prime Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: FPRX ). Register with ... http://www.activewallst.com/ On Wednesday, shares in ...
(Date:5/25/2016)... ... May 25, 2016 , ... Thailand’s Board of Investment’s New ... San Francisco. Located at booth number 7301, representatives from the Thai Government, research ... the Thai biotechnology and life sciences sector. , Deputy Secretary General of ...
(Date:5/25/2016)... ... May 25, 2016 , ... WEDI, the nation’s leading authority on the ... Charles W. Stellar has been named by the WEDI Board of Directors as WEDI’s ... an executive leader with more than 35 years of experience in healthcare, association management ...
Breaking Biology Technology: