Editor´s choice - Systematics and evolution of the Pan-Alcidae

Submitted by Johan on 17 March 2015.

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A phylogenetic analysis of auks, puffins and their allies including both extant (23) and extinct (28) alcid species gives new and fascinating pespectives about the possible origins and diversification as well as about the reconstruction of ancestral diet and evolution of wing-propelled diving behaviour in this group of Northern Hemisphere birds.

Fossil remains are comparatively rich for the alcids, reaching back to more than 34 million years ago (Eocene). However, there is currently not sufficient fossil data to show if the alcids originated in the Pacific (most likely) or Atlantic Ocean basin. A period of major diversification was the Middle Miocene climatic optimum 10-15 million years ago, followed by many extinction events during the Pliocene climatic transition towards Pleistocene (2-5 million years ago). The most likely ancestral diet was vertebrates rather than invertebrates, and wing-propelled diving may have evolved from surface diving rather than from an aerial plunge diving behaviour.

Thomas Alerstam, Editor in Chief

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Editor´s Choice