Complexity of avian evolution revealed by family-level genomes

Josefin Stiller, Shaohong Feng, Al Aabid Chowdhury, Iker Rivas-González, David A. Duchêne, Qi Fang, Yuan Deng, Alexey Kozlov, Alexandros Stamatakis, Santiago Claramunt, Jacqueline M.T. Nguyen, Simon Y.W. Ho, Brant C. Faircloth, Julia Haag, Peter Houde, Joel Cracraft, Metin Balaban, Uyen Mai, Guangji Chen, Rongsheng GaoChengran Zhou, Yulong Xie, Zijian Huang, Zhen Cao, Zhi Yan, Huw A. Ogilvie, Luay Nakhleh, Bent Lindow, Benoit Morel, Jon Fjeldså, Peter A. Hosner, Rute R. da Fonseca, Bent Petersen, Joseph A. Tobias, Tamás Székely, Jonathan David Kennedy, Andrew Hart Reeve, Andras Liker, Martin Stervander, Agostinho Antunes, Dieter Thomas Tietze, Mads F. Bertelsen, Fumin Lei, Carsten Rahbek, Gary R. Graves, Mikkel H. Schierup, Tandy Warnow, Edward L. Braun, M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Erich D. Jarvis, Siavash Mirarab, Guojie Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite tremendous efforts in the past decades, relationships among main avian lineages remain heavily debated without a clear resolution. Discrepancies have been attributed to diversity of species sampled, phylogenetic method and the choice of genomic regions1–3. Here we address these issues by analysing the genomes of 363 bird species4 (218 taxonomic families, 92% of total). Using intergenic regions and coalescent methods, we present a well-supported tree but also a marked degree of discordance. The tree confirms that Neoaves experienced rapid radiation at or near the Cretaceous–Palaeogene boundary. Sufficient loci rather than extensive taxon sampling were more effective in resolving difficult nodes. Remaining recalcitrant nodes involve species that are a challenge to model due to either extreme DNA composition, variable substitution rates, incomplete lineage sorting or complex evolutionary events such as ancient hybridization. Assessment of the effects of different genomic partitions showed high heterogeneity across the genome. We discovered sharp increases in effective population size, substitution rates and relative brain size following the Cretaceous–Palaeogene extinction event, supporting the hypothesis that emerging ecological opportunities catalysed the diversification of modern birds. The resulting phylogenetic estimate offers fresh insights into the rapid radiation of modern birds and provides a taxon-rich backbone tree for future comparative studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)851-860
Number of pages10
Issue number8013
StatePublished - May 23 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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