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The evolution of migration
Date:8/4/2014

Each year, millions of birds migrate thousands of miles between the locations where they breed and raise young, and the areas where they spend the winter. Each migration is a trip fraught with dangermany birds die before they reach their final destination. To scientists, long distance migration still holds many mysteries, one of which is: where did migration begin and how did it evolve? This question has long been a debated topic among scientists, but thanks to new research from Field Museum scientists, we may have an answer for one of the largest groups of migratory birds. The scientists' research will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Traditionally, there have been two schools of thought: one, that ancestors of migratory birds spent the whole year in North America and evolved migration by moving their winter range to the tropics. The other theory suggested that these ancestors were originally found in the tropics, and evolved migration by moving breeding grounds to more temperate locales like North America.

To uncover this mystery of migration Resident Graduate Student Ben Winger (University of Chicago) and Associate Curator of Botany Rick Ree created a model to infer how the breeding and winter ranges of migratory species changed through time. They applied the model to a large group of migratory birds that include warblers, cardinals, sparrows, tanagers, orioles, and others. The model uses a phylogeny (a "family tree" of species that depicts their evolutionary relationships), which was contributed by co-author Keith Barker, a former Field Museum graduate student now at the University of Minnesota.

"We named it the 'domino model' because the breeding and winter ranges of species were coded in 3x2 grids of binary values, like dots on domino pieces. The computational challenge was to reconstruct the most probable evolutionary shifts from one domino to another," explains Ree.
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Contact: Emily Waldren
media@fieldmuseum.org
312-665-7107
Field Museum
Source:Eurekalert  

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