Organizing the sampling

Although it’s been a little over a year since our last post, we’ve been busy. As I noted in the introductory post, the goal of OpenWings is to generate a time-calibrated phylogeny for all bird species using vouchered museum specimens. The important word here being “vouchered”. A voucher or voucher specimen is a preserved organism that represents the animal used in a study (or studies). The voucher can be a source of phenotypic or genetic data (or both).  Because vouchers are housed in museums, they provide a resilient, tangible reference that can be used to confirm (or define) the identity of a species, subspecies, or population. Vouchered specimens are important because they allow researchers to deal with problems like misidentification, incorrect or changing taxonomy, and differences in species concepts.  Vouchered specimens can also provide a temporal record of how species, subspecies, and populations have changed over time —  provided sufficient specimens have been collected over the intervals of interest. Vouchered specimens can also be type specimens. One of the hurdles for a project like OpenWings is identifying vouchered specimens from which we can collect genetic data and doing that across a number of ornithological collections throughout the United States and the rest of […]

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Introducing the OpenWings Project

We are incredibly pleased to announce the beginning of the OpenWings Project – a research project supported by the National Science Foundation through the Systematics and Biodiversity Science Cluster of the Division of Environmental Biology. At its heart, the OpenWings project is all about understanding the evolutionary history of and evolutionary relationships among birds. Birds, or “Class Aves”, comprise the only extant lineage of theropod dinosaurs, are the single most diverse clade of amniotes, and include at least one lineage that underwent a remarkably rapid radiation (Neoaves; see Jarvis et al. 2014). Birds occur in almost every terrestrial environment, from the snow line to lowland rain forests and from perpetually wet cloud forests to virtually rainless deserts. Birds are amazing. Birds are also a major source of public engagement – bird-watching in 2011 (alone) generated $107 billion in US economic output. On the scientific side of things, the study of birds (also known as ornithology) has led to advancements in numerous scientific fields. Birds are also emerging as a model for comparative biology – draft genomes of over fifty avian species are now available, and this resource is yielding insights into a diversity of topics including genomic innovations, trait loss, adaptation, convergence […]

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