The robin’s closest relatives are found in tropical Africa. The European robin is therefore not closely related to the Japanese robin, despite their close resemblance in appearance. This is confirmed by a new study of the Old World flycatcher family, to which these birds belong. The study includes 92 percent of the more than 300 species in this family.
“The fact that the European and Japanese robins look so similar despite not being closely related is one of many examples of so-called convergent evolution in this group of birds. For example, similarities in appearance among distant relatives can arise from similarities in lifestyle,” says Uppsala University’s Per Alström, one of the researchers behind the study published in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.
The Old World flycatcher family includes birds belonging to more than 300 species distributed in Europe, Asia and Africa. The family includes not only flycatchers, but also nightingales, gossips, wheatears, redstarts, whistling thrushes, forktails and other exotic groups. Twelve species breed in Sweden, the best known of which are the robin, the pied flycatcher and the thrush nightingale. All but three of these species overwinter in sub-Saharan Africa or southern Asia.
Researchers from Uppsala University, the University of Gothenburg and the University of Florida have used DNA to reconstruct the pedigree of 92 percent of species in the Old World flycatcher family. This study confirms previous findings about relationships and reveals new, unexpected relationships.
“Species referred to as flycatchers are found on many different branches of the family tree and therefore belong to groups that are not closely related. Regarding the Swedish flycatchers, the pied flycatcher, the collared flycatcher and the red-breasted flycatcher are closely related, while the spotted flycatcher is a more distant relative.”
Uppsala University has a long tradition of research on flycatchers, particularly pied flycatchers and collared flycatchers. The present study supports the hypothesis that the bluethroat, colloquially called “the nightingale of the Swedish mountains”, has its closest relatives in the Himalayas and in the mountains of China.
“I’m always surprised by the many unexpected connections that DNA analyzes uncover,” says Per Alström.
Min Zhao et al, A near-complete and time-calibrated phylogeny of flycatchers, robins, and Old World chats (Aves, Muscicapidae), Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2022.107646
Provided by Uppsala University
Citation: Family tree of Old World flycatchers mapped (2022, November 23), retrieved November 23, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-11-world-flycatchers-family-tree.html
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