Background: Pigeons and doves (Columbiformes) are one of the oldest and most diverse extant lineages of birds. However, the nature and timing of the group's evolutionary radiation remains poorly resolved, despite recent advances in DNA sequencing and assembly and the growing database of pigeon mitochondrial genomes. One challenge has been to generate comparative data from the large number of extinct pigeon lineages, some of which are morphologically unique and therefore difficult to place in a phylogenetic context.
Results: We used ancient DNA and next generation sequencing approaches to assemble complete mitochondrial genomes for eleven pigeons, including the extinct Ryukyu wood pigeon (Columba jouyi), the thick-billed ground dove (Alopecoenas salamonis), the spotted green pigeon (Caloenas maculata), the Rodrigues solitaire (Pezophaps solitaria), and the dodo (Raphus cucullatus). We used a Bayesian approach to infer the evolutionary relationships among 24 species of living and extinct pigeons and doves.
Conclusions: Our analyses indicate that the earliest radiation of the Columbidae crown group most likely occurred during the Oligocene, with continued divergence of major clades into the Miocene, suggesting that diversification within the Columbidae occurred more recently than has been reported previously.
Keywords: Ancient DNA; Columbidae; Passenger pigeon; Pezophaps solitaria; Raphus cucullatus; time calibrated phylogeny.