Phylogenomics and Morphology of Extinct Paleognaths Reveal the Origin and Evolution of the Ratites

Journal: Current Biology

Published: 2017-01-09

DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.10.029

Affiliations: 22

Authors: 26

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Research Highlight

Ostrich’s ancestor was airborne

© Photo by Bobby-Jo Clow/Moment/Getty

© Photo by Bobby-Jo Clow/Moment/Getty

The southerly stomping grounds of ostriches and emus may have been first the landing post of a small bird that flew in from North America.

Flightless birds, or ratites, are thought to have originated on Gondwana, the supercontinent that broke up into the land masses of the Southern Hemisphere. An international team, including a researcher from The Kyushu University Museum, have established an evolutionary tree of the ratites using DNA fragments from a fossil, found in Madagascar, of the extinct elephant bird, a giant ratite. They found physical and genetic similarities between the elephant bird and a much smaller bird species, Lithornis, whose fossils, found in North America and Europe, predate those of the monstrous elephant bird.

The evolutionary tree places Lithornis as a common ancestor of ratites. It had functional wings so could have flown overseas from the North to the Southern Hemisphere where it eventually evolved into ostriches and emus, the authors suggest.

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  1. Current Biology 27, 68-77 (2017). doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.10.029
Institutions Share
The University of Tokyo (UTokyo), Japan 0.15
Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech), Japan 0.12
National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR), ROIS, Japan 0.10
Fudan University, China 0.08
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies (Sokendai), Japan 0.08
Yamashina Institute for Ornithology, Japan 0.07
Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre, Denmark 0.05
Research Organization of Information and Systems (ROIS), Japan 0.04
Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University (NVLU), Japan 0.04
Kyushu University, Japan 0.04
University of Antananarivo, Madagascar 0.04
National Museum of Nature and Science (Kahaku), Japan 0.04
University of Miyazaki, Japan 0.04
University of Porto (UP), Portugal 0.03
University of Tsukuba, Japan 0.02
Tokyo University of Information Sciences, Japan 0.02
The Research Institute of Evolutionary Biology, Japan 0.02
University of Yamanashi, Japan 0.02
Tokyo University of Agriculture, Japan 0.01