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Applying new phylogenetic comparative methods to analyze character evolution in swallows

PI(s): Roi Dor (Cornell University (Ithaca,NY))
Start Date: 30-Aug-2010
End Date: 5-Sep-2010
Keywords: comparative methods, life histories, phylogenetics, speciation

With the background of a robust phylogeny, a comparative approach can be used to explore how phenotypic traits, geographic distributions, and habitat conditions interact to generate biodiversity. Emerging methods in comparative phylogeny allow better analysis of character evolution and improve our understanding of species diversity. One of the most widespread and diverse bird families is swallows (Aves: Hirundinidae) with more than 80 species. Recently, we were able to complete new and comprehensive phylogenies for all swallows and more detailed phylogenies specifically for two genera: the largely Old World barn swallows (genus: Hirundo), and the New World tree swallows (genus: Tachycineta), two widely-distributed and well-studied groups, which serve as model systems for main topics in evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology. Together with collaborators in NESCent (postdoctoral fellows Carlos Botero and Liam Revell), I will apply new comparative approaches on the new phylogenies to investigate the character evolution in swallows. The main goal of the NESCent group (lead by R. J. Safran and A. C. Uy) is to explore the role of sexual selection in speciation, however comparative methods will also be used to study the evolution of morphological (coloration, tail shape), life-history (breeding biology) and behavioral (parental care) traits and compare them between swallow groups. The project will contribute to establish phylogenetic comparative methods and results from the comparative analysis will shed light on the evolution of these important traits in the fascinating swallow family.