Morphological evidence for sister group relationshipbetween flamingos (Aves: Phoenicopteridae) and grebes(Podicipedidae)

Rose Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) Science Article 1


A recent molecular analysis strongly supported sister group relationship between flamingos (Phoenicopteridae) andgrebes (Podicipedidae), a hypothesis which has not been suggested before. Flamingos are long-legged filter-feederswhereas grebes are morphologically quite divergent foot-propelled diving birds, and sister group relationshipbetween these two taxa would thus provide an interesting example of evolution of different feeding strategies inbirds. To test monophyly of a clade including grebes and flamingos, I performed a cladistic analysis of 70 morphologicalcharacters which were scored for 17 taxa. Parsimony analysis of these data supported monophyly of the taxon(Podicipedidae + Phoenicopteridae) and the clade received high bootstrap support. Previously overlooked morphological,oological and parasitological evidence is recorded which supports this hypothesis, and which makes the taxon(Podicipedidae + Phoenicopteridae) one of the best supported higher-level clades within modern birds. The phylogeneticsignificance of some fossil flamingo-like birds is discussed. The Middle Eocene taxon Juncitarsus is mostlikely the sister taxon of the clade (Podicipedidae + (Palaelodidae + Phoenicopteridae)) although resolution of itsexact systematic position awaits revision of the fossil material. Contrary to previous assumptions, it is more parsimoniousto assume that flamingos evolved from a highly aquatic ancestor than from a shorebird-like ancestor.

Mayr, G., Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2004, 140, 157-169

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