Journal Article

Four New Avian Mitochondrial Genomes Help Get to Basic Evolutionary Questions in the Late Cretaceous

G. L. (Abby) Harrison, P. A. McLenachan, M. J. Phillips, Kerryn E. Slack, Alan Cooper and David Penny

in Molecular Biology and Evolution

Published on behalf of Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution

Volume 21, issue 6, pages 974-983
Published in print June 2004 | ISSN: 0737-4038
Published online June 2004 | e-ISSN: 1537-1719 | DOI:
Four New Avian Mitochondrial Genomes Help Get to Basic Evolutionary Questions in the Late Cretaceous

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  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Molecular and Cell Biology


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Good phylogenetic trees are required to test hypotheses about evolutionary processes. We report four new avian mitochondrial genomes, which together with an improved method of phylogenetic analysis for vertebrate mt genomes give results for three questions in avian evolution. The new mt genomes are: magpie goose (Anseranas semipalmata), an owl (morepork, Ninox novaeseelandiae); a basal passerine (rifleman, or New Zealand wren, Acanthisitta chloris); and a parrot (kakapo or owl-parrot, Strigops habroptilus). The magpie goose provides an important new calibration point for avian evolution because the well-studied Presbyornis fossils are on the lineage to ducks and geese, after the separation of the magpie goose. We find, as with other animal mitochondrial genomes, that RY-coding is helpful in adjusting for biases between pyrimidines and between purines. When RY-coding is used at third positions of the codon, the root occurs between paleognath and neognath birds (as expected from morphological and nuclear data). In addition, passerines form a relatively old group in Neoaves, and many modern avian lineages diverged during the Cretaceous. Although many aspects of the avian tree are stable, additional taxon sampling is required.

Keywords: avian evolution; mitochondrial genomes; Anseranas (Anseriformes); morepork (owl, Strigiformes); kakapo (parrot Psittaciformes); rifleman (N Z Wren, Passeriformes); RY-coding

Journal Article.  8075 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Evolutionary Biology ; Molecular and Cell Biology

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