May 13, 2007

Secrets of the Birds Revealed

Attention Bay Area readers: the Santa Clara Valley Audubon's monthly meeting has a fascinating program coming up this week.

"Tear Up Your Field Guide and Paste It Back Together: What DNA sequences are teaching us about the true relationships of Birds" with John Harshman

Many of the groups and relationships that have been standard in field guides for years have been found to be wrong, and the true relationships are often bizarre and surprising. One case that has made its way into a few field guides already is the Blue Grosbeak, which is not a grosbeak at all but a bunting; in fact Indigo Buntings are more closely related to Blue Grosbeaks than to Lazuli Buntings. Similarly, Northern Oriole was re-split because Bullock's Oriole turned out to be more closely related to some tropical orioles than to its geographic neighbor, the Baltimore Oriole. Much more of this sort of thing, but much stranger, will work its way into future guides. All this new knowledge comes from comparing the DNAs of different species, and how we go about doing that is itself a fascinating story.

The talk meets at the Campbell Community Center on Wednesday and starts at 8am. This is definitely one for the birds.

All images courtesy of eNature.

Posted by Mary at May 13, 2007 12:29 PM | Science | Technorati links |