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A family tree for all things feathered

Posted on Nov 05, 10:45AM | IANS

An international team of researchers has created the world's first family tree describing the evolutionary history that links all 9,993 known living bird species.

This study, the culmination of five years of work by five researchers from the UK, US, Canada and Australia, provides a unique perspective on avian evolution and diversity.

The study used fossil data, DNA sequences, mathematics and supercomputers to produce the family tree.

This was combined with their geographic distributions to examine regional patterns in speciation (forming of a new species) with surprising results, the journal Nature reports.

"When we originally tackled this problem, we expected to have the family trees within a year or two. The further we progressed, the more the enormity of our ambitious task became evident," said mathematician Klaas Hartmann from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Science at the University of Tasmania.

However, the work has been worth it.

"Our results have uses that go far beyond understanding avian speciation. I'm excited about using these results to guide biodiversity conservation decisions," Hartmann added, according to a Tasmania statement.

Sadly, this study shows that although the rate of speciation in birds is increasing, it is overshadowed by the current rate of human-induced extinctions.