Everything from:Specimens

Fossils reveal convergent beak evolution in perching birds

In our quest to complete a phylogeny for all living birds, extinct species play a big role as well. Fossils provide calibrations to date the tree. But, they also provide sometimes unexpected insight into how each group of birds evolved, including were they originated and how they changed over time. As our team has advanced our understanding of extant passerine (perching bird) phylogeny, we have also been delving into the surprising past of this hyper-diverse group. Modern passerines include many familiar backyard birds such as sparrows, chickadees, and crows – and with over 6000 extant species represent more than half of present day bird diversity. Open Wings paleontologist Daniel Ksepka, working with colleagues Lance Grande of the Field Museum and Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute, recently identified two new extinct bird species that were the first to evolve finch-like beaks. Fossils of the new species, named Eofringillirostrum boudreauxi and Eofringillirostrum parvulum, were discovered in Wyoming and Germany. The exquisite fossils date to 50 million years ago, a time when both regions were covered by subtropical forests. Despite their dominance of many modern ecosystems, passerines have a very sparse fossil record. The two Eofringillirostrum species appear to have been […]

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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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