Strewth! Original songbirds had an Aussie twang
A DNA study has found the northern hemisphere’s much-loved songbirds actually evolved in Australia 45 million years ago. Australian bird experts said the findings, published this week in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and overturned 200 years of assumptions about avian evolution.
The research by US and Swiss scientists, led by Keith Barker from the Bell Museum of Natural History in Minnesota, examined the DNA of passerida, or perching birds, which comprise half of world’s bird species.
Barker said it was previously thought that birds evolved in Europe and Asia about 40 million years ago but DNA evidence showed the earliest passerida appeared in the western part of the ancient Gondwana supercontinent - the section that eventually formed Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea. “That means all songbirds trace their origins to Australasia and New Guinea,” he said.
Nightingales, mockingbirds, cardinals, robins, finches and other well known songbirds are not native to Australia, even though it now appears their ancestors originated there. Australian Museum assistant director Les Christidis said Australian passerida such as lyre bird, bower birds and honey eaters were living examples of millions of years of evolution. Christidis said Barker’s work built on that of Australian researchers in the late 1980s, which was initially met with deep scepticism. “When we first suggested this ... we got laughed at by the Americans,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “Australia doesn’t have that many birds relative to the rest of the world, so how could it be the centre of everything? afp