Evidence for a recent origin of penguins
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Penguins are a remarkable group of birds, with the 18 extant species living in diverse climatic zones from the tropics to Antarctica. The timing of the origin of these extant penguins remains controversial. Previous studies based on DNA sequences and fossil records have suggested widely differing times for the origin of the group. This has given rise to widely differing biogeographic narratives about their evolution. To resolve this problem, we sequenced five introns from 11 species representing all genera of living penguins. Using these data and other available DNA sequences, together with the ages of multiple penguin fossils to calibrate the molecular clock, we estimated the age of the most recent common ancestor of extant penguins to be 20.4 Myr (17.0-23.8 Myr). This time is half of the previous estimates based on molecular sequence data. Our results suggest that most of the major groups of extant penguins diverged 11-16 Ma. This overlaps with the sharp decline in Antarctic temperatures that began approximately 12 Ma, suggesting a possible relationship between climate change and penguin evolution.
Copyright 2013 Royal Society. This is the author-manuscript version of this paper. Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. Please refer to the journal website for access to the definitive, published version.
Phylogeny and Comparative Analysis