Coffee Shop Phlogenetics #2: What's More Prehistoric the Robin or the Blue Jay?
I just showed up for a latte at my favorite coffee shop and my buddy Ian was there waiting with a question: "What's more prehistoric, the Robin or the Blue Jay"? He was thinking it was the Blue Jay due to overall physical appearance and their prehistoric squawking calls. It's impossible to answer this question in a manner that's going to satisfy the serious phylogeneticist, but because I like to think of myself as a phylogeneticist of the people I'm going take stab at this one. To avoid troublesome inference about which species is more primitive or more advanced we should focus simply on which extant species has been around for longer. If we look at Hackett et al.'s recent phylogenomic analysis of birds, we find that the Robin's genus (Turdus) is included, but the closest thing to a blue jay is the con-familial crow (Corvus). Let's approach this question from the family level by contrasting the phylogenetic position of the crows and jays (Corvidae) with that of the thrushes (Turdidae). It's clear that the Corvidae branched off from a clade including the Turdidae and a range of other families relatively deep in the Oscine radiation. This pattern certainly fails to reject Ian's hypothesis, but its unclear that anything shy of a comprehensive species-level, time-calibrated phylogeny would be able to do more. Any ornithologists or paleontologists care to weigh in on this important topic?
Dechronization is authored by evolutionary biologists interested in the development and application of methods for estimating phylogeny and making phylogeny-based inferences. The goal of the blog is to provide a forum for discussion of the latest research and methods, while also providing anecdotes, tidbits of natural history, and other related information.