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  1. Abstract

    Gene tree discordance is expected in phylogenomic trees and biological processes are often invoked to explain it. However, heterogeneous levels of phylogenetic signal among individuals within data sets may cause artifactual sources of topological discordance. We examined how the information content in tips and subclades impacts topological discordance in the parrots (Order: Psittaciformes), a diverse and highly threatened clade of nearly 400 species. Using ultraconserved elements from 96$\%$ of the clade’s species-level diversity, we estimated concatenated and species trees for 382 ingroup taxa. We found that discordance among tree topologies was most common at nodes dating between the late Miocene and Pliocene, and often at the taxonomic level of the genus. Accordingly, we used two metrics to characterize information content in tips and assess the degree to which conflict between trees was being driven by lower-quality samples. Most instances of topological conflict and nonmonophyletic genera in the species tree could be objectively identified using these metrics. For subclades still discordant after tip-based filtering, we used a machine learning approach to determine whether phylogenetic signal or noise was the more important predictor of metrics supporting the alternative topologies. We found that when signal favored one of the topologies, the noisemore »was the most important variable in poorly performing models that favored the alternative topology. In sum, we show that artifactual sources of gene tree discordance, which are likely a common phenomenon in many data sets, can be distinguished from biological sources by quantifying the information content in each tip and modeling which factors support each topology. [Historical DNA; machine learning; museomics; Psittaciformes; species tree.]

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  2. Of the more than 6,000 members of the most speciose avian clade, Passeriformes (perching birds), only the five species of dippers (Cinclidae, Cinclus) use their wings to swim underwater. Among nonpasserine wing-propelled divers (alcids, diving petrels, penguins, and plotopterids), convergent evolution of morphological characteristics related to this highly derived method of locomotion have been well-documented, suggesting that the demands of this behavior exert strong selective pressure. However, despite their unique anatomical attributes, dippers have been the focus of comparatively few studies and potential convergence between dippers and nonpasseriform wing-propelled divers has not been previously examined. In this study, a suite of characteristics that are shared among many wing-propelled diving birds were identified and the distribution of those characteristics across representatives of all clades of extant and extinct wing-propelled divers were evaluated to assess convergence. Putatively convergent characteristics were drawn from a relatively wide range of sources including osteology, myology, endocranial anatomy, integument, and ethology. Comparisons reveal that whereas nonpasseriform wing-propelled divers do in fact share some anatomical characteristics putatively associated with the biomechanics of underwater “flight”, dippers have evolved this highly derived method of locomotion without converging on the majority of concomitant changes observed in other taxa. Changes in themore »flight musculature and feathers, reduction of the keratin bounded external nares and an increase in subcutaneous fat are shared with other wing-propelled diving birds, but endocranial anatomy shows no significant shifts and osteological modifications are limited. Muscular and integumentary novelties may precede skeletal and neuroendocranial morphology in the acquisition of this novel locomotory mode, with implications for understanding potential biases in the fossil record of other such transitions. Thus, dippers represent an example of a highly derived and complex behavioral convergence that is not fully associated with the anatomical changes observed in other wing-propelled divers, perhaps owing to the relative recency of their divergence from nondiving passeriforms.« less
  3. Tropical mountains hold more biodiversity than their temperate counterparts, and this disparity is often associated with the latitudinal climatic gradient. However, distinguishing the impact of latitude versus the background effects of species history and traits is challenging due to the evolutionary distance between tropical and temperate assemblages. Here, we test whether microevolutionary processes are linked to environmental variation across a sharp latitudinal transition in 21 montane birds of the southern Atlantic Forest in Brazil. We find that effective dispersal within populations in the tropical mountains is lower and genomic differentiation is better predicted by the current environmental complexity of the region than within the subtropical populations. The concordant response of multiple co-occurring populations is consistent with spatial climatic variability as a major process driving population differentiation. Our results provide evidence for how a narrow latitudinal gradient can shape microevolutionary processes and contribute to broader scale biodiversity patterns.
  4. Parrots (Psittaciformes) are a well-studied, diverse group of birds distributed mainly in tropical and subtropical regions. Today, one-third of their species face extinction, mainly due to anthropogenic threats. Emerging tools in genetics have made major contributions to understanding basic and applied aspects of parrot biology in the wild and in captivity. In this review, we show how genetic methods have transformed the study of parrots by summarising important milestones in the advances of genetics and their implementations in research on parrots. We describe how genetics helped to further knowledge in specific research fields with a wide array of examples from the literature that address the conservation significance of (1) deeper phylogeny and historical biogeography; (2) species- and genus-level systematics and taxonomy; (3) conservation genetics and genomics; (4) behavioural ecology; (5) molecular ecology and landscape genetics; and (6) museomics and historical DNA. Finally, we highlight knowledge gaps to inform future genomic research on parrots. Our review shows that the application of genetic techniques to the study of parrot biology has far-reaching implications for addressing diverse research aims in a highly threatened and charismatic clade of birds.
  5. A well-supported genus-level classification of any group of organisms underpins downstream understanding of its evolutionary biology and enhances the role of phylogenetic diversity in guiding its conservation and management. The lorikeets (Psittaciformes: Loriini) are parrots for which genus-level systematics (phylogenetic relationships and classification) has long been unstable and unsatisfactory. Instability has manifested through frequently changing compositions of some genera (e.g. Trichoglossus and Psitteuteles). Other genera (e.g. Charmosyna, Vini) have become so large that their phenotypic heterogeneity alone at least questions whether they are monophyletic assemblages that genera should comprise. Recent molecular phylogenetic and phenotypic studies have improved the framework with which to rationalise genus-level systematics in lorikeets but some trenchant uncertainty has remained. Here we utilise published genomic data and tetrahedral analysis of plumage colour to develop a full review of the genus-level classification of lorikeets. Using existing phylogenetic relationships and a newly estimated time-calibrated tree for lorikeets, we show where paraphyletic assemblages have misled the classification of genera. We assign six species to three new genera and six other species to four previously described generic names that have been in synonymy in recent literature. Our taxonomic revision brings a new perspective informing and guiding the conservation and management ofmore »the lorikeets and their evolutionary biology.« less
  6. The resolution of the Tree of Life has accelerated with advances in DNA sequencing technology. To achieve dense taxon sampling, it is often necessary to obtain DNA from historical museum specimens to supplement modern genetic samples. However, DNA from historical material is generally degraded, which presents various challenges. In this study, we evaluated how the coverage at variant sites and missing data among historical and modern samples impacts phylogenomic inference. We explored these patterns in the brush-tongued parrots (lories and lorikeets) of Australasia by sampling ultraconserved elements in 105 taxa. Trees estimated with low coverage characters had several clades where relationships appeared to be influenced by whether the sample came from historical or modern specimens, which were not observed when more stringent filtering was applied. To assess if the topologies were affected by missing data, we performed an outlier analysis of sites and loci, and a data reduction approach where we excluded sites based on data completeness. Depending on the outlier test, 0.15% of total sites or 38% of loci were driving the topological differences among trees, and at these sites, historical samples had 10.9× more missing data than modern ones. In contrast, 70% data completeness was necessary to avoidmore »spurious relationships. Predictive modeling found that outlier analysis scores were correlated with parsimony informative sites in the clades whose topologies changed the most by filtering. After accounting for biased loci and understanding the stability of relationships, we inferred a more robust phylogenetic hypothesis for lories and lorikeets.« less
  7. Our understanding of the earliest stages of crown bird evolution is hindered by an exceedingly sparse avian fossil record from the Mesozoic era. The most ancient phylogenetic divergences among crown birds are known to have occurred in the Cretaceous period but stem-lineage representatives of the deepest subclades of crown birds—Palaeognathae (ostriches and kin), Galloanserae (landfowl and waterfowl) and Neoaves (all other extant birds)—are unknown from the Mesozoic era. As a result, key questions related to the ecology, biogeography and divergence times of ancestral crown birds remain unanswered. Here we report a new Mesozoic fossil that occupies a position close to the last common ancestor of Galloanserae and fills a key phylogenetic gap in the early evolutionary history of crown birds. Asteriornis maastrichtensis, gen. et sp. nov., from the Maastrichtian age of Belgium (66.8–66.7 million years ago), is represented by a nearly complete, three-dimensionally preserved skull and associated postcranial elements. The fossil represents one of the only well-supported crown birds from the Mesozoic era, and is the first Mesozoic crown bird with well-represented cranial remains. Asteriornis maastrichtensis exhibits a previously undocumented combination of galliform (landfowl)-like and anseriform (waterfowl)-like features, and its presence alongside a previously reported Ichthyornis-like taxon from the samemore »locality provides direct evidence of the co-occurrence of crown birds and avialan stem birds. Its occurrence in the Northern Hemisphere challenges biogeographical hypotheses of a Gondwanan origin of crown birds, and its relatively small size and possible littoral ecology may corroborate proposed ecological filters that influenced the persistence of crown birds through the end-Cretaceous mass extinction.« less
  8. Relative brain sizes in birds can rival those of primates, but large-scale patterns and drivers of avian brain evolution remain elusive. Here, we explore the evolution of the fundamental brain-body scaling relationship across the origin and evolution of birds. Using a comprehensive dataset sampling> 2,000 modern birds, fossil birds, and theropod dinosaurs, we infer patterns of brain-body co-variation in deep time. Our study confirms that no significant increase in relative brain size accompanied the trend toward miniaturization or evolution of flight during the theropod-bird transition. Critically, however, theropods and basal birds show weaker integration between brain size and body size, allowing for rapid changes in the brain-body relationship that set the stage for dramatic shifts in early crown birds. We infer that major shifts occurred rapidly in the aftermath of the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction within Neoaves, in which multiple clades achieved higher relative brain sizes because of a reduction in body size. Parrots and corvids achieved the largest brains observed in birds via markedly different patterns. Parrots primarily reduced their body size, whereas corvids increased body and brain size simultaneously (with rates of brain size evolution outpacing rates of body size evolution). Collectively, these patterns suggest that an early adaptivemore »radiation in brain size laid the foundation for subsequent selection and stabilization.« less