, Volume 68, Issue 2, pp 129-143

Evolutionary genetics of birds IV rates of protein divergence in waterfowl (Anatidae)

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Abstract

An electrophoretic comparison of proteins in 26 species of waterfowl (Anatidae), representing two major subfamilies and six subfamilial tribes, led to the following major conclusions: (1) the genetic data, analyzed phenetically and cladistically, generally support traditional concepts of evolutionary relationships, although some areas of disagreement are apparent; (2) species and genera within Anatidae exhibit smaller genetic distances at protein-coding loci than do most non-avian vertebrates of equivalent taxonomic rank; (3) the conservative pattern of protein differentiation in Anatidae parallels patterns previously reported in Passeriforme birds. If previous taxonomic assignments and ages of anatid fossils are reliable, it would appear that the conservative levels of protein divergence among living species may not be due to recent age of the family, but rather to a several-fold deceleration in rate of protein evolution relative to non-avian vertebrates.

Since it now appears quite possible that homologous proteins can evolve at different rates in different phylads, molecular-based conclusions about absolute divergence times for species with a poor fossil record should remain appropriately reserved. However, the recognition and study of the phenomenon of apparent heterogeneity in rates of protein divergence across phylads may eventually enhance our understanding of molecular and organismal evolution.