[Taxacom] The new "Psittacopasserae" taxon of birds

Kenneth Kinman kennethkinman at webtv.net
Thu Aug 25 23:17:20 CDT 2011

Dear All,
       A paper published very recently by Suh et al. has used a large
number of long molecular elements (LINES) to verify an earlier (2008)
conclusion that parrots and passeriforms form an exclusive clade (which
they now have named Psittacopasserae).  They also conclude that falcons
are the immediate sister group to that clade, which may well be true,
but I frankly do not think it was a particularly a good idea to call
that (falcon + Psittacopasserae) clade by the name Eufalconimorphae.
Such a name seems to be more appropriate for the falcons alone, to the
exclusion of the other birds of prey (accipitriforms) which were long
lumped with them due to superficial morphology (in a grouping which
increasingly appears to be totally polyphyletic and superficially based
on homoplasies, with similarities mainly due to convergent predatory
life styles).    
       But the main conclusion of this new study is that passeriforms
and parrots not only share a unique suite of LINES, but also a shared
ability for superior vocal learning (which may be reflected in details
of brain structure when more such studies are done on the brains of
related birds).  My immediate reaction is that suboscines (which have
been labeled as poor vocalization learners) may actually have more such
abilities than previously realized.  Likewise, I would not be surprised
if falcons also have some such vocalization learning abilities that have
not been documented (or at least not widely recognized as such if they
have been).    Perhaps humans value certain types of vocalization
learning (which parrots and oscines clearly have), but not certain other
types of vocalization learning in suboscines and falcons.  I predict
that this will almost certainly be true of suboscines (but perhaps
falcons as well).         
       Anyway, I love it when molecular data helps us narrow our focus
when it comes to what particular morphologies are most phylogenetically
informative.  Vocalization and pertinent brain structures now seem to be
more important than convergences in predatory specializations (in the
bill, etc.) between falcons and the other "birds of prey", and that
ornithologists were fooled by those convergences for a very long time.    


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