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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
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An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Telling an Ovenbird by Its Nest
29 November 1999 7:00 pm
Some ovenbird species make nests lined with grass or snake skin, others adorn their homes with elaborate domes or awnings. From the array of domestic styles, researchers have deduced the likely order of branchings of this common bird's family tree.
Ovenbirds are a family of small bug-eaters that live in the Neotropics, from the sand dunes of Chile to the mountain forests of Mexico. Throughout their range, the 240 recognized species construct enclosed nests, where eggs incubate in the dark, safe from weather and predators. Beyond that the birds diverge: Different species have perfected the art of enclosure with myriad forms and resources.
Ornithologists Krzysztof Zyskowski and Richard Prum of the University of Kansas, Lawrence, thought that this "startling diversity of nest types" might help them sort out the hitherto murky ovenbird family tree. They analyzed 24 nest characteristics, including shape, material, and building behaviors--such as tree-hollowing, leaf-stripping, or plant-macerating--looking for common materials or methods shared by different species that would point to a recent common ancestor.
Their analysis paid off, they report in the October issue of The Auk, in the first formal ovenbird family tree. For example, the best-known ovenbird, Furnarius, builds ovenlike mud domes atop fence posts and trees throughout South America. That bird was believed to be related only remotely to other genera that nest in earthen burrows. But Zyskowski and Prum found that the linings of both species' nests are cup-shaped and composed of layers of grass and strips of inner bark. They concluded that Furnarius evolved from a lineage of earthen cavity nesters.
"Previously, most people would have said that nests are too plastic to provide evidence of evolutionary relationships," says Robert Zink, an ornithologist at the Bell Museum in St. Paul, Minnesota. Zyskowski and Prum, he says, "have paved the way for using this sort of evidence in phylogenetic studies of other groups."