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The Mysterious Spotted Green Pigeon and Its Relation to the Dodo and Its Kindred


The Mysterious Spotted Green Pigeon and Its Relation to the Dodo and Its Kindred

Tim H Heupink et al. BMC Evol Biol.


Background: The closely related and extinct Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) and Rodrigues Solitaire (Pezophaps solitaria), both in the subfamily Raphinae, are members of a clade of morphologically very diverse pigeons. Genetic analyses have revealed that the Nicobar Pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica) is the closest living relative of these birds, thereby highlighting their ancestors' remarkable migration and morphological evolution. The Spotted Green Pigeon (Caloenas maculata) was described in 1783 and showed some similarities to the Nicobar Pigeon. Soon however the taxon fell into obscurity, as it was regarded as simply an abnormal form of the Nicobar Pigeon. The relationship between both taxa has occasionally been questioned, leading some ornithologists to suggest that the two may in fact be different taxa. Today only one of the original two specimens survives and nothing is known about the origin of the taxon. Due to its potential close relationship, the Spotted Green Pigeon may hold clues to the historical migration, isolation and morphological evolution of the Dodo and its kindred.

Results: We use ancient DNA methodologies to investigate the phylogeny and authenticity of the Spotted Green Pigeon. A novel extraction method with the ability to retain and purify heavily fragmented DNA is used to investigate two feathers from the sole surviving specimen. Maximum Likelihood phylogenetic analyses reveal that the Spotted Green Pigeon is a unique lineage and together with the Nicobar Pigeon, is basal to the Dodo and Rodrigues Solitaire.

Conclusions: The distance observed for the Spotted Green Pigeon and Nicobar Pigeon is larger than that observed within other Pigeon species, indicating that the Spotted Green pigeon is a unique taxon, thereby also indicating it is a genuine addition to the list of extinct species. The phylogenetic placement of the Spotted Green Pigeon indicates that the ancestors of both Caloenas and therefore Raphinae displayed and shared the following traits: ability of flight, semi-terrestrial habits and an affinity towards islands. This set of traits supports the stepping stone hypothesis, which states that the Raphinae got to their respective localities by island hopping from India or Southeast Asia.


Figure 1
Figure 1
The Spotted Green Pigeon, extracted DNA characteristics and phylogeny. (A) Reconstruction of the Spotted Green or Liverpool Pigeon (courtesy of del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., & Sargatal, J. eds. 2002. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 7. Jacamars to Woodpeckers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona), (B) a picture of the sole surviving specimen (courtesy of Clemency Fisher and the World Museum, National Museums Liverpool), (C) Bioanalyzer plot for the first DNA extract highlighting the short fragmentary nature of the DNA (median 51 bp). 35 bp and 10380 bp peaks are markers. FU: fluorescent units., (D) Maximum likelihood tree for the concatenated Spotted Green Pigeon sequences and 12S sequences from members of the extended Dodo clade (as identified by Shapiro et al. [1]) and (E) Maximum likelihood tree for 106 Pigeon mitochondrial 12S sequences. The Spotted Green Pigeon (bold) clusters first with the Nicobar Pigeon and second with the Dodo and Rodrigues Solitaire. Previously identified Pigeon clades in the phylogeny are coloured. The reason for the clustering of three rock Pigeon sequences (Columba livia, grey box) with mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) is unclear, although hybridisation has been observed for these two species [5]. Bootstrap support values above 40 are indicated in the larger tree to allow for observation of the bootstrap value for the split between Caloenas and Raphinae, the dotted lines in both trees are there to associate the taxa with the appropriate tree tips.

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Cited by 2 PubMed Central articles


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