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:6/15/2016)... 2016 Transparency Market Research ... Market by Application Market - Global Industry Analysis Size Share ... the report, the  global gesture recognition market  was ... is estimated to grow at a CAGR of ... Increasing application of gesture recognition technology ...
(Date:6/2/2016)... LONDON , June 2, 2016 ... has awarded the 44 million US Dollar project, ... Security Embossed Vehicle Plates including Personalization, Enrolment, and IT Infrastructure ... world leader in the production and implementation of Identity Management ... in January, however Decatur was selected ...
(Date:5/20/2016)... -- VoiceIt is excited to announce its new marketing ... working together, VoiceIt and VoicePass will offer an ... slightly different approaches to voice biometrics, collaboration between ... Both companies ... "This marketing and technology partnership allows VoiceIt ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/23/2016)... June, 23, 2016  The Biodesign Challenge (BDC), a ... ways to harness living systems and biotechnology, announced its ... in New York City . ... students, showcased projects at MoMA,s Celeste Bartos Theater during ... , MoMA,s senior curator of architecture and design, and ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... , June 23, 2016 Apellis Pharmaceuticals, ... 1 clinical trials of its complement C3 inhibitor, ... and multiple ascending dose studies designed to assess ... of subcutaneous injection in healthy adult volunteers. ... either as a single dose (ranging from 45 ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... , ... June 23, 2016 , ... ... quality, regulatory and technical consulting, provides a free webinar on Performing ... July 13, 2016 at 12pm CT at no charge. , Incomplete investigations are ...
(Date:6/22/2016)... June 22, 2016 Research and Markets has ... report to their offering. ... 2014 from $29.3 billion in 2013. The market is expected to ... from 2015 to 2020, increasing from $50.6 billion in 2015 to ... forecasts during the forecast period (2015 to 2020) are discussed. As ...
Breaking Biology Technology: