Flightlessness and phylogeny amongst endemic rails (Aves:Rallidae) of the New Zealand region.
ABSTRACT: The phylogenetic relationships of a number of flightless and volant rails have been investigated using mtDNA sequence data. The third domain of the small ribosomal subunit (12S) has been sequenced for 22 taxa, and part of the 5' end of the cytochrome-b gene has been sequenced for 12 taxa. Additional sequences were obtained from outgroup taxa, two species of jacana, sarus crane, spur-winged plover and kagu. Extinct rails were investigated using DNA extracted from subfossil bones, and in cases where fresh material could not be obtained from other extant taxa, feathers and museum skins were used as sources of DNA. Phylogenetic trees produced from these data have topologies that are, in general, consistent with data from DNA-DNA hybridization studies and recent interpretations based on morphology. Gallinula chloropus moorhen) groups basally with Fulica (coots), Amaurornis (= Megacrex) ineptus falls within the Gallirallus/Rallus group, and Gallinula (= Porphyrula) martinica is basal to Porphyrio (swamphens) and should probably be placed in that genus. Subspecies of Porphyrio porphyrio are paraphyletic with respect to Porphyrio mantelli (takahe). The Northern Hemisphere Rallus aquaticus is basal to the south-western Pacific Rallus (or Gallirallus) group. The flightless Rallus philippensis dieffenbachii is close to Rallus modestus and distinct from the volant Rallus philippensis, and is evidently a separate species. Porzana (crakes) appears to be more closely associated with Porphyrio than Rallus. Deep relationships among the rails remain poorly resolved. Rhynochetus jubatus (kagu) is closer to the cranes than the rails in this analysis. Genetic distances between flightless rails and their volant counterparts varied considerably with observed 12S sequence distances, ranging from 0.3% (Porphyrio porphyrio melanotus and P. mantelli mantelli) to 7.6% (Rallus modestus and Rallus philippensis). This may be taken as an indication of the rapidity with which flightlessness can evolve, and of the persistence of flightless taxa. Genetic data supported the notion that flightless taxa were independently derived, sometimes from similar colonizing ancestors. The morphology of flightless rails is apparently frequently dominated by evolutionary parallelism although similarity of external appearance is not an indication of the extent of genetic divergence. In some cases taxa that are genetically close are morphologically distinct from one another (e.g. Rallus (philippensis) dieffenbachii and R. modestus), whilst some morphologically similar taxa are evidently independently derived (e.g. Porphyio mantelli hochstetteri and P.m. mantelli).
Project description:Flight loss has evolved independently in numerous island bird lineages worldwide, and particularly in rails (Rallidae). The Aldabra white-throated rail (Dryolimnas [cuvieri] aldabranus) is the last surviving flightless bird in the western Indian Ocean, and the only living flightless subspecies within Dryolimnas cuvieri, which is otherwise volant across its extant range. Such a difference in flight capacity among populations of a single species is unusual, and could be due to rapid evolution of flight loss, or greater evolutionary divergence than can readily be detected by traditional taxonomic approaches. Here we used genetic and morphological analyses to investigate evolutionary trajectories of living and extinct Dryolimnas cuvieri subspecies. Our data places D. [c.] aldabranus among the most rapid documented avian flight loss cases (within an estimated maximum of 80,000-130,000 years). However, the unusual intraspecific variability in flight capacity within D. cuvieri is best explained by levels of genetic divergence, which exceed those documented between other volant taxa versus flightless close relatives, all of which have full species status. Our results also support consideration of Dryolimnas [cuvieri] aldabranus as sufficiently evolutionary distinct from D. c. cuvieri to warrant management as an evolutionary significant unit. Trait variability among closely related lineages should be considered when assessing conservation status, particularly for traits known to influence vulnerability to extinction (e.g. flightlessness).
Project description:Just as skeletal characteristics provide clues regarding behavior of extinct vertebrates, phylogenetically-informed evaluation of endocranial morphology facilitates comparisons among extinct taxa and extant taxa with known behavioral characteristics. Previous research has established that endocranial morphology varies across Aves; however, variation of those systems among closely related species remains largely unexplored. The Charadriiformes (shorebirds and allies) are an ecologically diverse clade with a comparatively rich fossil record, and therefore, are well suited for investigating interspecies variation, and potential links between endocranial morphology, phylogeny, ecology and other life history attributes. Endocranial endocasts were rendered from high resolution X-ray computed tomography data for 17 charadriiforms (15 extant and two flightless extinct species). Evaluation of endocranial character state changes on a phylogeny for Charadriiformes resulted in identification of characters that vary in taxa with distinct feeding and locomotor ecologies. In comparison with all other charadriiforms, stem and crown clade wing-propelled diving Pan-Alcidae displayed compressed semicircular canals, and indistinct occipital sinuses and cerebellar fissures. Flightless wing-propelled divers have relatively smaller brains for their body mass and smaller optic lobes than volant pan-alcids. Observed differences between volant and flightless wing-propelled sister taxa are striking given that flightless pan-alcids continue to rely on the flight stroke for underwater propulsion. Additionally, the brain of the Black Skimmer Rynchops niger, a taxon with a unique feeding ecology that involves continuous forward aerial motion and touch-based prey detection used both at day and night, is discovered to be unlike that of any other sampled charadriiform in having an extremely large wulst as well as a small optic lobe and distinct occipital sinus. Notably, the differences between the Black Skimmer and other charadriiforms are more pronounced than between wing-propelled divers and other charadriiforms. Finally, aspects of endosseous labyrinth morphology are remarkably similar between divers and non-divers, and may deserve further evaluation.
Project description:The physiological demands of flight exert strong selection pressure on avian morphology and so it is to be expected that the evolutionary loss of flight capacity would involve profound changes in traits. Here, we investigate morphological consequences of flightlessness in a bird family where the condition has evolved repeatedly. The Rallidae include more than 130 recognized species of which over 30 are flightless. Morphological and molecular phylogenetic data were used here to compare species with and without the ability to fly in order to determine major phenotypic effects of the transition from flighted to flightless. We find statistical support for similar morphological response among unrelated flightless lineages, characterized by a shift in energy allocation from the forelimbs to the hindlimbs. Indeed, flightless birds exhibit smaller sterna and wings than flighted taxa in the same family along with wider pelves and more robust femora. Phylogenetic signal tests demonstrate that those differences are independent of phylogeny and instead demonstrate convergent morphological adaptation associated with a walking ecology. We found too that morphological variation was greater among flightless rails than flighted ones, suggesting that relaxation of physiological demands during the transition to flightlessness frees morphological traits to evolve in response to more varied ecological opportunities.
Project description:Despite longstanding interest in convergent evolution, factors that result in deviations from fully convergent phenotypes remain poorly understood. In birds, the evolution of flightless wing-propelled diving has emerged as a classic example of convergence, having arisen in disparate lineages including penguins (Sphenisciformes) and auks (Pan-Alcidae, Charadriiformes). Nevertheless, little is known about the functional anatomy of the wings of flightless auks because all such taxa are extinct, and their morphology is almost exclusively represented by skeletal remains. Here, in order to re-evaluate the extent of evolutionary convergence among flightless wing-propelled divers, wing muscles and ligaments were reconstructed in two extinct flightless auks, representing independent transitions to flightlessness: <i>Pinguinus impennis</i> (a crown-group alcid), and <i>Mancalla</i> (a stem-group alcid). Extensive anatomical data were gathered from dissections of 12 species of extant charadriiforms and 4 aequornithine waterbirds including a penguin. The results suggest that the wings of both flightless auk taxa were characterized by an increased mechanical advantage of wing elevator/retractor muscles, and decreased mobility of distal wing joints, both of which are likely advantageous for wing-propelled diving and parallel similar functional specializations in penguins. However, the conformations of individual muscles and ligaments underlying these specializations differ markedly between penguins and flightless auks, instead resembling those in each respective group's close relatives. Thus, the wings of these flightless wing-propelled divers can be described as convergent as overall functional units, but are incompletely convergent at lower levels of anatomical organization-a result of retaining differing conditions from each group's respective volant ancestors. Detailed investigations such as this one may indicate that, even in the face of similar functional demands, courses of phenotypic evolution are dictated to an important degree by ancestral starting points.
Project description:Hybridization is common in bird populations but can be challenging for management, especially if one of the two parent species is of greater conservation concern than the other. King rails (Rallus elegans) and clapper rails (R. crepitans) are two marsh bird species with similar morphologies, behaviors, and overlapping distributions. The two species are found along a salinity gradient with the king rail in freshwater marshes and the clapper in estuarine marshes. However, this separation is not absolute; they are occasionally sympatric, and there are reports of interbreeding. In Virginia, USA, both king and clapper rails are identified by the state as Species of Greater Conservation Need, although clappers are thought to be more abundant and king rails have a higher priority ranking. We used a mitochondrial DNA marker and 13 diagnostic nuclear single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to identify species, classify the degree of introgression, and explore the evolutionary history of introgression in two putative clapper rail focal populations along a salinity gradient in coastal Virginia. Genetic analyses revealed cryptic introgression with site-specific rates of admixture. We identified a pattern of introgression where clapper rail alleles predominate in brackish marshes. These results suggest clapper rails may be displacing king rails in Virginia coastal waterways, most likely as a result of ecological selection. As introgression can result in various outcomes from outbreeding depression to local adaptation, continued monitoring of these populations would allow further exploration of hybrid fitness and inform conservation management.
Project description:Birds are prolific colonists of islands, where they readily evolve distinct forms. Identifying predictable, directional patterns of evolutionary change in island birds, however, has proved challenging. The "island rule" predicts that island species evolve toward intermediate sizes, but its general applicability to birds is questionable. However, convergent evolution has clearly occurred in the island bird lineages that have undergone transitions to secondary flightlessness, a process involving drastic reduction of the flight muscles and enlargement of the hindlimbs. Here, we investigated whether volant island bird populations tend to change shape in a way that converges subtly on the flightless form. We found that island bird species have evolved smaller flight muscles than their continental relatives. Furthermore, in 366 populations of Caribbean and Pacific birds, smaller flight muscles and longer legs evolved in response to increasing insularity and, strikingly, the scarcity of avian and mammalian predators. On smaller islands with fewer predators, birds exhibited shifts in investment from forelimbs to hindlimbs that were qualitatively similar to anatomical rearrangements observed in flightless birds. These findings suggest that island bird populations tend to evolve on a trajectory toward flightlessness, even if most remain volant. This pattern was consistent across nine families and four orders that vary in lifestyle, foraging behavior, flight style, and body size. These predictable shifts in avian morphology may reduce the physical capacity for escape via flight and diminish the potential for small-island taxa to diversify via dispersal.
Project description:BACKGROUND:In comparative neurobiology, major transitions in behavior are thought to be associated with proportional size changes in brain regions. Bird-line theropod dinosaurs underwent a drastic locomotory shift from terrestrial to volant forms, accompanied by a suite of well-documented postcranial adaptations. To elucidate the potential impact of this locomotor shift on neuroanatomy, we first tested for a correlation between loss of flight in extant birds and whether the brain morphology of these birds resembles that of their flightless, non-avian dinosaurian ancestors. We constructed virtual endocasts of the braincase for 80 individuals of non-avian and avian theropods, including 25 flying and 19 flightless species of crown group birds. The endocasts were analyzed using a three-dimensional (3-D) geometric morphometric approach to assess changes in brain shape along the dinosaur-bird transition and secondary losses of flight in crown-group birds (Aves). RESULTS:While non-avian dinosaurs and crown-group birds are clearly distinct in endocranial shape, volant and flightless birds overlap considerably in brain morphology. Phylogenetically informed analyses show that locomotory mode does not significantly account for neuroanatomical variation in crown-group birds. Linear discriminant analysis (LDA) also indicates poor predictive power of neuroanatomical shape for inferring locomotory mode. Given current sampling, Archaeopteryx, typically considered the oldest known bird, is inferred to be terrestrial based on its endocranial morphology. CONCLUSION:The results demonstrate that loss of flight does not correlate with an appreciable amount of neuroanatomical changes across Aves, but rather is partially constrained due to phylogenetic inertia, evident from sister taxa having similarly shaped endocasts. Although the present study does not explicitly test whether endocranial changes along the dinosaur-bird transition are due to the acquisition of powered flight, the prominent relative expansion of the cerebrum, in areas associated with flight-related cognitive capacity, suggests that the acquisition of flight may have been an important initial driver of brain shape evolution in theropods.
Project description:This study investigated the effect of the presence of introduced mongoose, environmental quality and habitat on the distribution of native and endemic birds on 16 small islands within Fiji. In total, 9055 birds representing 45 species were observed within four key habitats (forest, villages, crop land and coastal vegetation) on the 16 islands, half of which had mongoose present. Previous studies attribute bird declines and extirpation anecdotally to the mongoose. The presence of mongoose, environmental quality and habitat type had a measurable influence on observed extant native and endemic bird communities. We conclude that three ground birds; Gallirallus phillipensis, Anas supericiliosa and Porphyrio porhyrio were negatively influenced by the presence of mongoose and that Ptilinopus perousii, Phigys solitarius, Chrysoenas victor, Ducula latrans, Clytorhyrchus vitiensis, Pachycephala pectoralis, Prospeia tabunesis, and Foulehaio carunculata were particularly dependent on good quality forest habitat. Conservation priorities in relation to protecting Fiji's endemic birds from the effect of mongoose are discussed and preventative measures suggested.
Project description:With thousands of vertebrate species now threatened with extinction, there is an urgent need to understand and mitigate the causes of wildlife collapse. Rails (Aves: Rallidae), being the most extinction-prone bird family globally, and with one-third of extant rail species now threatened or near threatened, are an emphatic case in point. Here, we undertook a global synthesis of the temporal and spatial threat patterns for Rallidae and determined conservation priorities and gaps. We found two key pathways in the threat pattern for rails. One follows the same trajectory as extinct rails, where island endemic and flightless rails are most threatened, mainly due to invasive predators. The second, created by the diversification of anthropogenic activities, involves continental rails, threatened mainly by agriculture, natural system modifications, and residential and commercial development. Indonesia, the USA, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Cuba were the priority countries identified by our framework incorporating species' uniqueness and the level of endangerment, but also among the countries that lack conservation actions the most. Future efforts should predominantly target improvements in ecosystem protection and management, as well as ongoing research and monitoring. Forecasting the impacts of climate change on island endemic rails will be particularly valuable to protect rails.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Water Rails (Rallus aquaticus) inhabit fragmented freshwater wetlands across their Palearctic distribution. Disjunct populations are now thought to be morphologically similar over their vast geographic range, though four subspecies had been recognized previously. The fossil record suggests that Water Rails (R. aquaticus) were already spread across the Palearctic by the Pleistocene approximately 2 million years ago, and the oldest fossil remains thought to be closely related to the common ancestor of water rails date from the Pliocene. RESULTS: To investigate population structure in Water Rails at the genetic level we sequenced three independent loci: 686 base pairs (bp) of the mitochondrial DNA COI barcode; 618 bp of the intron ADH5; and 746 bp of the exon PTPN12. Phylogeographic analysis revealed that Water Rails breeding in eastern Asia (R. a. indicus, also known as the Brown-cheeked Rail) are strongly differentiated from the Water Rails in Western and Middle Asia and Europe (R. a. aquaticus and R. a. korejewi). The Kimura 3-parameter plus Gamma COI genetic distance between these two geographic groups was > 3%, and they differed by 18 diagnostic substitutions commensurate with differences between recently diverged sister species of birds. In spite of the low number of variable sites, the two nuclear loci supported this split. We estimated the split of the Brown-cheeked Rail and the Water Rail to have occurred approximately 534,000 years ago (95% CI 275,000-990,000 years ago). Fragmentation of the widespread ancestral population and eventual speciation of water rails is likely attributable to vicariance by a barrier formed by glacial cycles, continuous uplift of the Tibetan Plateau and increased sedimentation in deserts in southern Asia that originated in the Miocene. CONCLUSIONS: Water Rails from East Asia were genetically differentiated from the ones breeding in Europe and Western to Middle Asia. Most of the genetic signal was from mitochondrial COI, and was corroborated by polymorphic sites in the two nuclear loci we employed. The split between these two lineages was estimated to occur in the Middle Pleistocene, when populations were isolated in disjunct wetlands with little or no gene flow. Independent evidence from differences in morphology and vocalizations in concert with genetic differentiation and a long history of isolation support recognition of the Brown-cheeked Rail breeding in East Asia as a separate species, R. indicus. The use of several independent loci is invaluable in inferring species trees from gene trees and in recognizing species limits.