Phylogenetics of modern birds in the era of genomics

Scott V Edwards, W Bryan Jennings, Andrew M Shedlock

Abstract

In the 14 years since the first higher-level bird phylogenies based on DNA sequence data, avian phylogenetics has witnessed the advent and maturation of the genomics era, the completion of the chicken genome and a suite of technologies that promise to add considerably to the agenda of avian phylogenetics. In this review, we summarize current approaches and data characteristics of recent higher-level bird studies and suggest a number of as yet untested molecular and analytical approaches for the unfolding tree of life for birds. A variety of comparative genomics strategies, including adoption of objective quality scores for sequence data, analysis of contiguous DNA sequences provided by large-insert genomic libraries, and the systematic use of retroposon insertions and other rare genomic changes all promise an integrated phylogenetics that is solidly grounded in genome evolution. The avian genome is an excellent testing ground for such approaches because of the more balanced representation of single-copy and repetitive DNA regions than in mammals. Although comparative genomics has a number of obvious uses in avian phylogenetics, its application to large numbers of taxa poses a number of methodological and infrastructural challenges, and can be greatly facilitated by a ‘community genomics’ approach in which the modest sequencing throughputs of single PI laboratories are pooled to produce larger, complementary datasets. Although the polymerase chain reaction era of avian phylogenetics is far from complete, the comparative genomics era—with its ability to vastly increase the number and type of molecular characters and to provide a genomic context for these characters—will usher in a host of new perspectives and opportunities for integrating genome evolution and avian phylogenetics.

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