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A Genetic Study Rewrites the History of Bird Evolution


Narrator: This is Science Today. A large-scale genetic study has rewritten the history of bird evolution and reshuffles their family tree in surprising ways. Ornithologist Raurie Bowie of the University of California, Berkeley, who co-authored the study, explains that scientists didn't really know how the major families of birds were related to each other.

Bowie: For over a hundred years now, people have wondered, what are the songbirds related to? So, the songbirds represent over sixty percent of all the bird diversity on the world. They're one single order of birds, they're extremely abundant everywhere, there are nearly six thousand species, but we've never known what their closest relative is.

Narrator: Bowie and his colleagues used new, DNA-based techniques to solve this century-old mystery.

Bowie: Based on our results, I think we can fairly confidently say that parrots are their closest relatives and that's a result that has never before been suggested, so it's completely unexpected. What does that mean for understanding bird behavior, bird communication, ecology of birds?'

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.