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Publication . Article . 2019

Total-evidence framework reveals complex morphological evolution in nightbirds (Strisores)

Chen, Albert; White, Noor D.; Benson, Roger B.J.; Braun, Michael J.; Field, Daniel J.;
Open Access   English  
Strisores is a clade of neoavian birds that include diurnal aerial specialists such as swifts and hummingbirds, as well as several predominantly nocturnal lineages such as nightjars and potoos. Despite the use of genome-scale molecular datasets, the phylogenetic interrelationships among major strisorean groups remain controversial. Given the availability of next-generation sequence data for Strisores and the clade’s rich fossil record, we reassessed the phylogeny of Strisores by incorporating a large-scale sequence dataset with anatomical data from living and fossil strisoreans within a Bayesian total-evidence framework. Combined analyses of molecular and morphological data resulted in a phylogenetic topology for Strisores that is congruent with the findings of two recent molecular phylogenomic studies, supporting nightjars (Caprimulgidae) as the extant sister group of the remainder of Strisores. This total-evidence framework allowed us to identify morphological synapomorphies for strisorean clades previously recovered using molecular-only datasets. However, a combined analysis of molecular and morphological data highlighted strong signal conflict between sequence and anatomical data in Strisores. Furthermore, simultaneous analysis of molecular and morphological data recovered differing placements for some fossil taxa compared with analyses of morphological data under a molecular scaffold, highlighting the importance of analytical decisions when conducting morphological phylogenetic analyses of taxa with molecular phylogenetic data. We suggest that multiple strisorean lineages have experienced convergent evolution across the skeleton, obfuscating the phylogenetic position of certain fossils, and that many distinctive specializations of strisorean subclades were acquired early in their evolutionary history. Despite this apparent complexity in the evolutionary history of Strisores, our results provide fossil support for aerial foraging as the ancestral ecological strategy of Strisores, as implied by recent phylogenetic topologies derived from molecular data.
Parts of this project were supported by Systematics Research Fund awards to A.C. and D.J.F. by the Linnean Society of London and the Systematics Association. D.J.F. also acknowledges support from the Isaac Newton Trust early career support scheme. Parts of this project were also funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program 2014–2018 under grant agreement 677774 (European Research Council [ERC] Starting Grant: TEMPO) to R.B.J.B. N.D.W. and M.J.B. received Smithsonian Institution support through the Predoctoral Fellowship Program (N.D.W.), the Frontiers in Phylogenetics Program, the Scholarly Studies Program, and the Consortium for Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet.
Subjects by Vocabulary

Microsoft Academic Graph classification: Phylogenetic tree Convergent evolution Morphology (biology) Clade Biology Taxon Evolutionary biology Phylogenetics Synapomorphy Sister group

Library of Congress Subject Headings: lcsh:Biology (General) lcsh:QH301-705.5


Avian, Evolution, Morphology, Phylogeny, Strisores, Total-evidence, /dk/atira/pure/subjectarea/asjc/2300/2303, Ecology, /dk/atira/pure/subjectarea/asjc/2300/2302, Ecological Modelling, /dk/atira/pure/subjectarea/asjc/1100/1101, Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous), /dk/atira/pure/subjectarea/asjc/2300/2309, Nature and Landscape Conservation, Strisores, avian, phylogeny, evolution, morphology, total-evidence, Nature and Landscape Conservation, Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous), Ecological Modeling, Ecology

Funded by
Terrestrial vertebrates and the evolutionary origins of morphological diversity
  • Funder: European Commission (EC)
  • Project Code: 677774
  • Funding stream: H2020 | ERC | ERC-STG