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, 29 (2), 268-78

RAG-1 Sequences Resolve Phylogenetic Relationships Within Charadriiform Birds


RAG-1 Sequences Resolve Phylogenetic Relationships Within Charadriiform Birds

Tara A Paton et al. Mol Phylogenet Evol.


The Charadriiformes is a large and diverse order of shorebirds currently classified into 19 families, including morphologically aberrant forms that are of uncertain phylogenetic placement within non-passerine birds in general. Recent attempts using morphological characters have failed to recover a well-supported phylogeny depicting higher level relationships within Charadriiformes and the limits to the order, primarily because of inconsistency and homoplasy in these data. Moreover, these trees are incongruent with the relationships presented in the DNA hybridization tapestry of, including the location of the root and the branching order of major clades within the shorebirds. To help clarify this systematic confusion we therefore sequenced the large RAG-1 nuclear exon (2850 bp) from 36 species representing 17 families of shorebirds for which DNA was available. Trees built with maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood or Bayesian methods are topologically identical and fully resolved, with high support at basal nodes. This further attests to the phylogenetic utility of the RAG-1 sequences at higher taxonomic levels within birds. The RAG-1 tree is topologically similar to the DNA hybridization tree in depicting three major subordinal clades of shorebirds, the Charadrii (thick-knees, sheathbills, plovers, oystercatchers, and allies), Scolopaci (sandpipers and jacanas) and the Lari (coursers, pratincoles, gulls, terns, skimmers, and skuas). However, the basal split in the RAG-1 tree is between Charadrii and (Scolopaci+Lari), whereas in the DNA hybridization tree Scolopaci is the sister group to the (Charadrii+Lari). Thus in both of these DNA-based trees the Alcidae (auks, murres, and allies) are not basal among shorebirds as hypothesized in morphological trees, but instead are placed as a tip clade within Lari. The enigmatic buttonquails (Turnicidae), variously hypothesized as being allied to either the Galliformes, Gruiformes, or Charadriiformes, are shown to be a basal lineage in the more conventional Lari clade. Divergence times estimated with rate-smoothing methods and minimum time constraints imposed at nodes with key fossils suggest that Charadriiformes originated in Gondwanaland.

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