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A Jabiru stork at the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary

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New Computer Model Uses DNA to Identify Earth’s Most Distinctive Birds

Brandon Keim / Wired
Thursday, April 10, 2014

Of all the birds on Earth, perhaps none is more unique than the South American oilbird, which 90 million years ago hopped onto its own branch of the evolutionary tree and has been on it ever since. The oilbird perches atop a new analysis of avian distinctiveness: how old each species is, and whether they have close relatives. By this metric, the most distinct species are truly one-of-a-kind. “It’s millions of years of evolutionary information that’s distinct to the species,” said evolutionary biologist Walter Jetz of Yale University. The new analysis, led by Jetz and published April 10 in Current Biology, used a computer model that turned genetic data, the fossil record and previously-proposed taxonomic trees into a new evolutionary tree of birds.

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