The superb lyrebird is one of the most talented songbirds. Photo Credit: Michael Lee / Flinders University and South Australian Museum

Animals The World23. May 2024

Landmark Study Helps Us Better Understand the History of Birds

The largest-ever bird genome study reveals a much clearer picture of the bird family tree.

The ten-year study was recently published in the journal Nature Today, where it revealed that most of the modern birds appeared within five million years after the extinction of dinosaurs. The latest bird tree of life used the genomes of 363 bird species and even overturns some previous ideas regarding bird relationships.

Previously, birds were classified into one of three groups: the tinamous, ratites, and the Neoaves. The new study, however, reveals a fourth group, coined the “Elementaves.” The name was inspired by the four elements of earth, air, water, and fire because the birds belonging to this group are well adapted for success on land, in the sky, and in the water. According to the study, all birds can be traced back to a common ancestor that lived just over 90 million years ago. Only 363 bird species have been classified after ten years of work. Eventually, the project aims to sequence the genomes of all 10,000 living bird species. The project has been an international effort led by researchers at the University of Copenhagen, the University of California San Diego, and Zhejiang University in China.

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