Phylogeny and Evolution of Passerine Birds: Inferring History From Molecular and Character Data
The evolutionary history of passerine birds is an excellent arena for understanding the interplay of isolation, dispersal, and ecology on diversification at the phenotypic and species level. Extremely important insights have been gained by studying the fossil record of mammals, which has revealed the biogeographic origins of major mammalian groups, the directionality and timing of their dispersal between continents, and the fundamental asymmetry in their subsequent evolutionary success in these regions. Unfortunately, not all groups have such a rich fossil record, making it necessary to infer these events based on other data, which include the current distributions of and phylogenetic relationships among living forms. Passerine birds are of particular interest in this regard, because they are quite diverse in terms of morphologies, ecology, and species number. These reseachers seek to infer phylogenetic relationships among these diverse forms in order to address similar questions that have been addressed in mammals: where did they come from, which paths have they taken once they arrived, how have they adapted to local conditions, and what determines why some lineages are so much more diverse than others? To infer these phylogenies, analyses of large genetic datasets (hundreds of species for thousands of base pairs) are necessary. Only recently have genetic algorithm and other methods been developed that can analyze large data sets with evolutionary realistic models. This group focuses on analyses using these methods, as well as validating their performance using simulation. In addition, they are using large-scale avian phylogenies to address questions regarding the tempo and mode of community assembly, the environmental and behavioral correlates of social behavior, and the effects of behavior on diversification, all of which require computationally intensive analysis. This work will result in a more integrated, hypothesis-driven understanding of diversification than has been achieved in any comparably diverse group of animals.
A bibliography of this group’s publications is attached.
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