Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Hawaiian honeycreepers: Family tree for most-endangered bird family in the world determined

Date:
October 20, 2011
Source:
Smithsonian
Summary:
Using one of the largest DNA data sets for a group of birds and employing next-generation sequencing methods, Smithsonian scientists and collaborators have determined the evolutionary family tree for one of the most strikingly diverse and endangered bird families in the world, the Hawaiian honeycreepers. Not only have the researchers determined the types of finches that the honeycreeper family originally evolved from, but they have also linked the timing of that rapid evolution to the formation of the four main Hawaiian Islands.

Using one of the largest DNA data sets for a group of birds and employing next-generation sequencing methods, Smithsonian scientists and collaborators have determined the evolutionary family tree for one of the most strikingly diverse and endangered bird families in the world, the Hawaiian honeycreepers. Not only have the researchers determined the types of finches that the honeycreeper family originally evolved from, but they have also linked the timing of that rapid evolution to the formation of the four main Hawaiian Islands.

Related Articles


"There were once more than 55 species of these colorful songbirds, and they are so diverse that historically it wasn't even entirely clear that they were all part of the same group," said Heather Lerner, who was a postdoctoral researcher at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics when she conducted this research and is currently an assistant professor of biology at Earlham College and Joseph Moore Museum director.

"Some eat seeds, some eat fruit, some eat snails, some eat nectar. Some have the bills of parrots, others of warblers, while some are finch-like and others have straight, thin bills. So the question that we started with was how did this incredible diversity evolve over time."

The answer is unique to the Hawaiian Islands, which are part of a conveyor belt of island formation, with new islands popping up as the conveyor belt moves northwest. Each island that forms represents a blank slate for evolution, so as one honeycreeper species moves from one island to a new island, those birds encounter new habitat and ecological niches that may force them to adapt and branch off into distinct species. The researchers looked at the evolution of the Hawaiian honeycreepers after the formation of Kauai-Niihau, Oahu, Maui-Nui and Hawaii. The largest burst of evolution into new species, called a radiation, occurred between 4 million and 2.5 million years ago, after Kauai-Niihau and Oahu formed but before the remaining two large islands existed, and resulted in the evolution of six of 10 distinct groups of species characterized by different sizes, shapes and colors. These findings will be published in the hard-copy version of Current Biology Nov. 8, with Lerner as lead author.

"This radiation is one of the natural scientific treasures that the archipelago offers out in the middle of the Pacific," said Helen James, a research zoologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and a co-author of the paper. "It was fascinating to be able to tie a biological system to geological formation and allowed us to become the first to offer a full picture of these birds' adaptive history."

James' previous work on Hawaiian birds' morphology, the branch of biology that deals with form and structure of organisms, played a pivotal role in determining which avian species to survey to determine the closest living relatives of the Hawaiian honeycreepers. Using genetic data from 28 bird species that seemed similar to the honeycreepers morphologically, genetically or that shared geographic proximity, the paper's authors determined that the various honeycreeper species evolved from Eurasian rosefinches. Unlike most other ancestral bird species that came from North America and colonized the Hawaiian Islands, the rosefinch likely came from Asia, the scientists found.

"There is a perception that there are no species remaining that are actually native to Hawaii, but these are truly native birds that are scientifically valuable and play an important and unique ecological function," said Rob Fleischer, head of SCBI's Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics and a co-author of the paper. Fleischer has been studying the genetics, evolution and conservation of these birds for more than 25 years. "I'm thrilled that we finally had enough DNA sequence and the necessary technology to become the first to produce this accurate and reliable evolutionary tree."

The diversity of Hawaiian honeycreepers has taken a huge hit, with more than half of the known 56 species already extinct. The paper's researchers focused on the 19 -- now 18 -- species that have not gone extinct, but of those, six are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, four are considered endangered and five are vulnerable.

The next, ongoing step in the research is to use museum specimens and subfossil bones to determine where the extinct species fit into the evolutionary family tree, or phylogeny, to see if the new lineages fit into the overall pattern found in this study. In order to analyze the DNA for the study that came out this week, the researchers used specialized next generation sequencing protocols developed by Michi Hofreiter's group at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. To look at ancient DNA that is by nature damaged or degraded, they are using additional innovative techniques to capture the DNA and come up with a sufficiently informative dataset.

The study's authors from SCBI are Lerner and Fleischer. The additional authors are James from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, Hofreiter from the University of York and Matthias Meyer from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. The work was funded by the National Science Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Smithsonian. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Heather R.L. Lerner, Matthias Meyer, Helen F. James, Michael Hofreiter, Robert C. Fleischer. Multilocus Resolution of Phylogeny and Timescale in the Extant Adaptive Radiation of Hawaiian Honeycreepers. Current Biology, 2011 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.09.039

Cite This Page:

Smithsonian. "Hawaiian honeycreepers: Family tree for most-endangered bird family in the world determined." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111020145144.htm>.
Smithsonian. (2011, October 20). Hawaiian honeycreepers: Family tree for most-endangered bird family in the world determined. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111020145144.htm
Smithsonian. "Hawaiian honeycreepers: Family tree for most-endangered bird family in the world determined." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111020145144.htm (accessed December 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Monarch Butterflies Descend Upon Mexican Forest During Annual Migration

Monarch Butterflies Descend Upon Mexican Forest During Annual Migration

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 19, 2014) Millions of monarch butterflies begin to descend onto Mexico as part of their annual migration south. Rough Cut (no reporter narration) Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Best Protein-Filled Foods to Energize You for the New Year

The Best Protein-Filled Foods to Energize You for the New Year

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) The new year is coming and nothing will energize you more for 2015 than protein-filled foods. Fitness and nutrition expert John Basedow (@JohnBasedow) gives his favorite high protein foods that will help you build muscle, lose fat and have endless energy. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Birds Might Be Better Meteorologists Than Us

Birds Might Be Better Meteorologists Than Us

Newsy (Dec. 19, 2014) A new study suggests a certain type of bird was able to sense a tornado outbreak that moved through the U.S. a day before it hit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

More Coverage


Researchers Trace Evolution of Diversity in Hawaiian Honeycreepers

Oct. 20, 2011 Scientists have determined the evolutionary family tree for one of the most strikingly diverse and endangered bird families in the world, the Hawaiian ... read more

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins