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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2004 Feb 29;359(1442):215-9; discussion 219-20.

The tempo of avian diversification during the Quaternary.

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  • 1J. F. Bell Museum of Natural History, University of Minnesota, St Paul, MN 55108, USA.


It is generally assumed that the Quaternary was a period of heightened diversification in temperate vertebrate organisms. Previous molecular systematics studies have challenged this assertion. We re-examined this issue in north temperate birds using log-lineage plots and distributions of sister-taxon distances. Log-lineage plots support earlier conclusions that avian diversification slowed during the Quaternary. To test plots of empirical sister-taxon distances we simulated three sets of phylogenies: constant speciation and extinction, a pulse of recent speciation, and a pulse of recent extinction. Previous opinions favour the model of recent speciation although our empirical dataset on 74 avian comparisons failed to reject a distribution derived from the constant and extinction models. Hence, it does not appear that the Quaternary was a period of exceptional rates of diversification, relative to the background rate.

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