Sprouting feathers and lost teeth
December 12, 2014 5:11 PM   Subscribe

"A remarkable international effort to map out the avian tree of life has revealed how birds evolved after the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs into more than 10,000 species alive today. More than 200 scientists in 20 countries joined forces to create the evolutionary tree, which reveals how birds gained their colourful feathers, lost their teeth, and learned to sing songs." Via iO9.
posted by brundlefly (29 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Some birds are shown to have unexpectedly close relationships, with falcons more closely related to parrots than eagles or vultures..."

That's kinda nuts.
posted by brundlefly at 5:12 PM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


They should tweet their findings
posted by Renoroc at 5:37 PM on December 12, 2014 [18 favorites]


This is absolutely fascinating. I could read about this all day.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:41 PM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


So T-rex was covered with boring mousey-blah colored feathers?
posted by darksasami at 5:45 PM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


They have been! Check out @ErichJarvis and #birdfamilytree.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:46 PM on December 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


They should tweet their findings

They have! (full disclosure: I went to grad school with some of these folks)

John McCormack on twitter (if it weren't against MeFi rules, I'd make a post about the amazing Moore Laboratory that John runs at Occidental college)

Brant Faircloth on twitter
posted by cnanderson at 5:47 PM on December 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


Ha! (jinx ChuraChura)
posted by cnanderson at 5:49 PM on December 12, 2014


how birds gained their colourful feathers, lost their teeth, and learned to sing songs

this really needs to be a big singing and dancing production number montage type thing
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:59 PM on December 12, 2014 [9 favorites]


Here's the tree if you want to be able to actually see what's going on.
posted by agentofselection at 6:13 PM on December 12, 2014 [11 favorites]


(if it weren't against MeFi rules, I'd make a post about the amazing Moore Laboratory that John runs at Occidental college)

I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be against the rules to write a comment about it...
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:18 PM on December 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm looking forward to an evening of getting mad snuggly with some beer and these papers this weekend, but just glancing at the family tree, it's very interesting how many taxonomic splits occur not just after the K/P boundary but around the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (around 55 MA). I hope there's some exquisite detail about the evolutionary timing.
posted by barchan at 6:32 PM on December 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


Well, at least we'll have the animals' histories after we lose the animals themselves.
posted by absalom at 6:50 PM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be against the rules to write a comment about it...

Well, the Moore lab is only one small part of the truly awesome international effort involved in this publication - but it's pretty unusual that the world's largest collection of Mexican birds is housed at an primarily undergraduate college with approx. 2K students. If I recall correctly, the bulk of the collection was spearheaded by an amateur ornithologist - his personal collection (now donated to the school) spanning the 1920s-1950s exceeds anything the Smithsonian has for that geographic area - especially with regards to capturing variation within species.

/end derail


Sunbittern and tropicbirds together! Wow!
posted by cnanderson at 7:20 PM on December 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


For some reason (maybe the memory of my dear departed blue-headed Pionus) I just love the phrase "prehistoric giant terror birds".

More striking is that the group of 50 or so genes that allow some birds to sing is similar to those that give humans the ability to speak. “This means that vocal learning birds and humans are more similar to each other for these genes in song and speech areas in the brain than other birds and primates are to them,” said Erich Jarvis at Duke University in North Carolina.

Neat! But I'm not sure I'm interpreting this correctly (was not a science major and stuck to physics/astronomy for the science requirements). Does this mean that the genetic similarity between my brain and an African Grey's brain in these areas is greater than A) the genetic similarity between my brain and other primates' brains and B) the genetic similarity between the African Grey's brain and the brains of non-vocal-learning birds?

Oh, and: GEESE HAVE TEETH. Ahem.
posted by Lexica at 7:47 PM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm jealous! This looks like it was a really fun project to be involved in. Phylogenomics is going to make such incredible strides now that it's cheap enough to get genomes for a reasonable number of taxa. There's a big phylogenomics project gearing up in my area and I'm tempted to join in as a doctoral student (I did the multi-gene work for part of the clade as my master's thesis), but my total inability to get a decent job with my master's has been kind of disheartening and makes me wonder if I should stay in the field.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:21 PM on December 12, 2014


"Some birds are shown to have unexpectedly close relationships, with falcons more closely related to parrots than eagles or vultures..."

That's kinda nuts.
posted by brundlefly


On the surface, perhaps, but consider that chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than they are to gorillas. What I find fascinating is that this business of birds evolving from dinosaurs is like continental drift--a crazy idea that is suddenly becoming widely accepted as truth. I love this about science.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:38 PM on December 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


Wait, do geese have teeth, or is it just a secondary beak/tongue adaptation?

If so, they wouldn't morphologically be the same as teeth, even if they served the same function.
posted by Earthtopus at 9:10 PM on December 12, 2014


how birds gained their colourful feathers, lost their teeth, and learned to sing songs.

Okay, how is this not a Rudyard Kipling Just So story?
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:46 PM on December 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


the prehistoric giant terror birds that once roamed the Americas.

Yessssssss. That's the kind of charismatic megafauna I can really support.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:02 PM on December 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


gingerbeer: "the prehistoric giant terror birds that once roamed the Americas.

Yessssssss. That's the kind of charismatic megafauna I can really support.
"

Even when you're on the receiving end of their exploits?
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:35 PM on December 12, 2014


Fascinating stuff, thanks for posting.
posted by marienbad at 7:24 AM on December 13, 2014


What I find fascinating is that this business of birds evolving from dinosaurs is like continental drift--a crazy idea that is suddenly becoming widely accepted as truth.

Yes! It's weird to think that when when I was in elementary school, the dinosaur-bird connection was not yet being taught. I remember there was some kind of recent discovery about archaeopteryx having feathers when we learned about dinosaurs in 2nd grade, but I don't think anybody was making the leap to say that birds and dinosaurs are closely related.

But once you learn about it, it seems blindingly obvious. You wanna see T-rex in a fuzzy bathrobe with its dentures out? It's called a baby vulture. Any kid could tell you that bird is a dinosaur. Why did we even need scientists to tell us this?
posted by gueneverey at 9:06 AM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why did we even need scientists to tell us this?

Because people rarely think outside the box, even if it is obvious.
Someone says, "People used to think the sun goes around the earth because that's what it looks like."
The scientist says, "What would it look like if the earth rotated?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:41 AM on December 13, 2014


What I find fascinating is that this business of birds evolving from dinosaurs is like continental drift--a crazy idea that is suddenly becoming widely accepted as truth.

I have to give Jurassic Park a lot of credit here, even if the featherless dinosaurs look dated now. It introduced the dinosaur/bird relationship to a much broader audience and it's been sinking in since then.

"I bet you'll never look at birds the same way again."
posted by brundlefly at 12:00 PM on December 13, 2014


The best part about the bird-dinosaur link is that under modern phylogenetic rules, clades contain all of their fossil members and all of their living descendents. So birds didn't just evolve from dinosaurs, they are dinosaurs. Legitimate members of the unranked clade Dinosauria.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:19 PM on December 13, 2014


It also means alligators are more closely related to hummingbirds than they are to lizards.
posted by brundlefly at 1:19 PM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


In regards to terror birds, I'm informed that evolution sucks.
posted by sysinfo at 11:16 AM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Some birds are shown to have unexpectedly close relationships, with falcons more closely related to parrots than eagles or vultures..."

brundlefly: That's kinda nuts.

Not if you knew the eagles and vultures I do. Shit, if I were a falcon and related to some of those creeps, I'd claim I was adopted.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:34 PM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


...posts!
posted by homunculus at 2:40 PM on January 1, 2015


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