USE OF MOLECULAR TECHNIQUES TO ADDRESS THE EVOLUTION OF DISPLAY TRAITS IN THE PTILONORHYNCHIDAE AND OTHER PASSERIFORM SPECIES
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Tests of hypotheses addressing the evolution of complex traits have greatly benefited from advances in the field of molecular genetics. Current molecular techniques allow for the identification of genetic variability, useful in estimating genetic relatedness and potentially explaining phenotypic variation. Here I use molecular data to address the evolution of complex traits within the Ptilonorhynchidae and other Passeriformes. My estimation of a bowerbird molecular phylogeny suggests two highly unlikely scenarios of complex trait evolution (i.e. polygyny, bower construction, decoration use, etc.); either polygyny and complex display traits evolved in parallel, or monogamy evolved from non-resource based polygyny, a transition for which no unambiguous examples could be found, and complex traits evolved once and were lost. Molecular evidence also supports the existence of four Sericulus species, dating the radiation to coincide with the upheaval of the central New Guinea mountain range, and suggests plumage coloration may be a labile trait within this group and therefore a poor indicator of species relatedness. Use of ultraviolet (UV) signals in birds is hypothesized to associate with the ability to see UV wavelengths, a trait with a well-documented genetic basis (replacements at key amino acid positions in the short-wavelength-sensitive 1 (SWS1) opsin pigment influence pigment sensitivity and potentially color discrimination). UV signal use may alternatively evolve to match the local light environment. Results from bowerbirds suggest extreme differences in UV reflectance are due to light availability and not differences in UV vision because amino acid sequences in the bowerbirds were nearly identical. Expanding upon this study, I compared SWS1 opsin gene sequences from 134 passeriform species and plumage UV reflectance measurements from 91 of these species. Results from the molecular data are unprecedented; replacements at five amino acid positions are predicted to have occurred nearly simultaneously, suggesting a constraint on UV vision evolution. Additionally, species reflect most intensely in wavelengths to which they are predicted to be sensitive. These results suggest a constraint on UV vision may also constrain the evolution of UV signals in the Passeriformes. These studies highlight the usefulness of molecular data when testing hypothesis of species and trait evolution.