Email Print Share

Scientists to build avian tree of life (Image 1)

A white-necked Jacobin (<em>Florisuga mellivora</em>)


A white-necked Jacobin (Florisuga mellivora), photographed in Speyside, Tobago. Researchers are working to build an evolutionary tree of all bird species using cutting-edge technologies to collect DNA from across the genome. [Image 1 of 3 related images. See Image 2.]

More about this image
Birds -- the only surviving descendants of dinosaurs -- are used to study a large range of fundamental topics in biology, from understanding the evolution of mating systems to learning about the genetic and environmental factors that affect their beautiful plumages. Although studied often, a complete description of the evolutionary relationships among all 10,560 bird species has not been possible.

Now, with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), researchers from Louisiana State University (LSU), in collaboration with a number of other institutions, are working to build an evolutionary tree of all bird species using cutting-edge technologies to collect DNA from across the genome. Called OpenWings, the project will produce the most complete evolutionary tree of any vertebrate group to date.

"A better understanding of an evolutionary tree of all birds will be transformative for the fields of ornithology and evolutionary biology, particularly as biologists integrate data to these trees from other large projects like the NSF-sponsored oVert Collection Network, the European Research Council-sponsored MarkMyBird project, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's eBird," said Brant Faircloth, LSU Department of Biological Sciences assistant professor and an investigator for the OpenWings project.

Data gleaned from the project will be released to the public as they are generated for use by scientists, citizens or professionals for their own research. The data will also be used to evaluate a number of ideas about how, when and where birds diversified and those processes responsible for the current distribution of worldwide avian diversity.

"A complete evolutionary tree constructed with cutting-edge data and all bird species represents an unprecedented resource for the research community. Our understanding of the evolution of birds may be rewritten in the coming years," said Brian Smith, American Museum of Natural History assistant curator of birds and an investigator on the project.

This research is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) ("Collaborative Research: All Birds: A Time-scaled Avian Tree From Integrated Phylogenomic and Fossil Datagrants," under NSF grants DEB 16-55624, DEB 1655559, DEB 1655683 and DEB 1655736).

Learn more in the LSU news story, Scientists to Build the Avian Tree of Life. (Date image taken: 2014; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: July 20, 2018)

Credit: Andre Moncrieff, LSU
 
See other images like this in NSF's Science360 for iPad app. To download the Science360 for iPad application for free, visit the Apple iTunes store.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

Also Available:
Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (8.0 MB)

Use your mouse to right-click (Mac users may need to Ctrl-click) the link above and choose the option that will save the file or target to your computer.