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Proc Biol Sci. 2017 May 17;284(1854). pii: 20170210. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0210.

How do seemingly non-vagile clades accomplish trans-marine dispersal? Trait and dispersal evolution in the landfowl (Aves: Galliformes).

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Department of Biology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA
Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA.
Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot, UK.
Department of Biology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA.


Dispersal ability is a key factor in determining insular distributions and island community composition, yet non-vagile terrestrial organisms widely occur on oceanic islands. The landfowl (pheasants, partridges, grouse, turkeys, quails and relatives) are generally poor dispersers, but the Old World quail (Coturnix) are a notable exception. These birds evolved small body sizes and high-aspect-ratio wing shapes, and hence are capable of trans-continental migrations and trans-oceanic colonization. Two monotypic partridge genera, Margaroperdix of Madagascar and Anurophasis of alpine New Guinea, may represent additional examples of trans-marine dispersal in landfowl, but their body size and wing shape are typical of poorly dispersive continental species. Here, we estimate historical relationships of quail and their relatives using phylogenomics, and infer body size and wing shape evolution in relation to trans-marine dispersal events. Our results show that Margaroperdix and Anurophasis are nested within the Coturnix quail, and are each 'island giants' that independently evolved from dispersive, Coturnix-like ancestral populations that colonized and were subsequently isolated on Madagascar and New Guinea. This evolutionary cycle of gain and loss of dispersal ability, coupled with extinction of dispersive taxa, can result in the false appearance that non-vagile taxa somehow underwent rare oceanic dispersal.


Galliformes; dispersal limitation; island gigantism; phylogeny; ultraconserved elements

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