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  1. One of the most fundamental goals of modern biology is to achieve a deep understanding of the origin and maintenance of biodiversity. It has been observed that in some mixed-species animal societies, there appears to be a drive towards some degree of phenotypic trait matching, such as similar coloration or patterning. Here we build on these observations and hypothesize that selection in mixed-species animal societies, such as mixed-species bird flocks, may drive diversification, potentially leading to speciation. We review evidence for possible convergent evolution and even outright mimicry in flocks from southwestern China, where we have observed several cases in which species and subspecies differ from their closest relatives in traits that match particular flock types. However, understanding whether this is phenotypic matching driven by convergence, and whether this divergence has promoted biodiversity, requires testing multiple facets of this hypothesis. We propose a series of steps that can be used to tease apart alternative hypotheses to build our understanding of the potential role of convergence in diversification in participants of mixed-species societies. Even if our social convergence/divergence hypothesis is not supported, the testing at each step should help highlight alternative processes that may affect mixed-species flocks, trait evolution and possible convergence. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Mixed-species groups and aggregations: shaping ecological and behavioural patterns and processes’. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 5, 2024
  2. Ruane, Sara (Ed.)
    Abstract Some phylogenetic problems remain unresolved even when large amounts of sequence data are analyzed and methods that accommodate processes such as incomplete lineage sorting are employed. In addition to investigating biological sources of phylogenetic incongruence, it is also important to reduce noise in the phylogenomic dataset by using appropriate filtering approach that addresses gene tree estimation errors. We present the results of a case study in manakins, focusing on the very difficult clade comprising the genera Antilophia and Chiroxiphia. Previous studies suggest that Antilophia is nested within Chiroxiphia, though relationships among Antilophia+Chiroxiphia species have been highly unstable. We extracted more than 11,000 loci (ultra-conserved elements and introns) from whole genomes and conducted analyses using concatenation and multispecies coalescent methods. Topologies resulting from analyses using all loci differed depending on the data type and analytical method, with 2 clades (Antilophia+Chiroxiphia and Manacus+Pipra+Machaeopterus) in the manakin tree showing incongruent results. We hypothesized that gene trees that conflicted with a long coalescent branch (e.g., the branch uniting Antilophia+Chiroxiphia) might be enriched for cases of gene tree estimation error, so we conducted analyses that either constrained those gene trees to include monophyly of Antilophia+Chiroxiphia or excluded these loci. While constraining trees reduced some incongruence, excluding the trees led to completely congruent species trees, regardless of the data type or model of sequence evolution used. We found that a suite of gene metrics (most importantly the number of informative sites and likelihood of intralocus recombination) collectively explained the loci that resulted in non-monophyly of Antilophia+Chiroxiphia. We also found evidence for introgression that may have contributed to the discordant topologies we observe in Antilophia+Chiroxiphia and led to deviations from expectations given the multispecies coalescent model. Our study highlights the importance of identifying factors that can obscure phylogenetic signal when dealing with recalcitrant phylogenetic problems, such as gene tree estimation error, incomplete lineage sorting, and reticulation events. [Birds; c-gene; data type; gene estimation error; model fit; multispecies coalescent; phylogenomics; reticulation] 
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  3. Abstract Biodiversity research has advanced by testing expectations of ecological and evolutionary hypotheses through the linking of large-scale genetic, distributional, and trait datasets. The rise of molecular systematics over the past 30 years has resulted in a wealth of DNA sequences from around the globe. Yet, advances in molecular systematics also have created taxonomic instability, as new estimates of evolutionary relationships and interpretations of species limits have required widespread scientific name changes. Taxonomic instability, colloquially “splits, lumps, and shuffles,” presents logistical challenges to large-scale biodiversity research because (1) the same species or sets of populations may be listed under different names in different data sources, or (2) the same name may apply to different sets of populations representing different taxonomic concepts. Consequently, distributional and trait data are often difficult to link directly to primary DNA sequence data without extensive and time-consuming curation. Here, we present RANT: Reconciliation of Avian NCBI Taxonomy. RANT applies taxonomic reconciliation to standardize avian taxon names in use in NCBI GenBank, a primary source of genetic data, to a widely used and regularly updated avian taxonomy: eBird/Clements. Of 14,341 avian species/subspecies names in GenBank, 11,031 directly matched an eBird/Clements; these link to more than 6 million nucleotide sequences. For the remaining unmatched avian names in GenBank, we used Avibase’s system of taxonomic concepts, taxonomic descriptions in Cornell’s Birds of the World, and DNA sequence metadata to identify corresponding eBird/Clements names. Reconciled names linked to more than 600,000 nucleotide sequences, ~9% of all avian sequences on GenBank. Nearly 10% of eBird/Clements names had nucleotide sequences listed under 2 or more GenBank names. Our taxonomic reconciliation is a first step towards rigorous and open-source curation of avian GenBank sequences and is available at GitHub, where it can be updated to correspond to future annual eBird/Clements taxonomic updates. 
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  4. Avian sex chromosomes evolved after the divergence of birds and crocodilians from their common ancestor, so they are younger than the better-studied chromosomes of mammals. It has long been recognized that there may have been several stages to the evolution of avian sex chromosomes. For example, the CHD1 undergoes recombination in paleognaths but not neognaths. Genome assemblies have suggested that there may be variation in the timing of barriers to recombination among Neognathae, but there remains little understanding of the extent of this variability. Here, we look at partial sequences of ATP5F1A, which is on the avian Z and W chromosomes. It is known that recombination of this gene has independently ceased in Galliformes, Anseriformes, and at least five neoavian orders, but whether there are other independent cessations of recombination among Neoaves is not understood. We analyzed a combination of data extracted from published chromosomal-level genomes with data collected using PCR and cloning to identify Z and W copies in 22 orders. Our results suggest that there may be at least 19 independent cessations of recombination within Neognathae, and 3 clades that may still be undergoing recombination (or have only recently ceased recombination). Analyses of ATP5F1A protein sequences revealed an increased amino acid substitution rate for W chromosome gametologs, suggesting relaxed purifying selection on the W chromosome. Supporting this hypothesis, we found that the increased substitution rate was particularly pronounced for buried residues, which are expected to be more strongly constrained by purifying selection. This highlights the dynamic nature of avian sex chromosomes, and that this level of variation among clades means they should be a good system to understand sex chromosome evolution. 
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  5. Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2024
  6. Phylogenomic analyses have revolutionized the study of biodiversity, but they have revealed that estimated tree topologies can depend, at least in part, on the subset of the genome that is analyzed. For example, estimates of trees for avian orders differ if protein-coding or non-coding data are analyzed. The bird tree is a good study system because the historical signal for relationships among orders is very weak, which should permit subtle non-historical signals to be identified, while monophyly of orders is strongly corroborated, allowing identification of strong non-historical signals. Hydrophobic amino acids in mitochondrially-encoded proteins, which are expected to be found in transmembrane helices, have been hypothesized to be associated with non-historical signals. We tested this hypothesis by comparing the evolution of transmembrane helices and extramembrane segments of mitochondrial proteins from 420 bird species, sampled from most avian orders. We estimated amino acid exchangeabilities for both structural environments and assessed the performance of phylogenetic analysis using each data type. We compared those relative exchangeabilities with values calculated using a substitution matrix for transmembrane helices estimated using a variety of nuclear- and mitochondrially-encoded proteins, allowing us to compare the bird-specific mitochondrial models with a general model of transmembrane protein evolution. To complement our amino acid analyses, we examined the impact of protein structure on patterns of nucleotide evolution. Models of transmembrane and extramembrane sequence evolution for amino acids and nucleotides exhibited striking differences, but there was no evidence for strong topological data type effects. However, incorporating protein structure into analyses of mitochondrially-encoded proteins improved model fit. Thus, we believe that considering protein structure will improve analyses of mitogenomic data, both in birds and in other taxa. 
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  7. null (Ed.)