Ultraconserved elements resolve the phylogeny and corroborate patterns of molecular rate variation in herons (Aves: Ardeidae)

Jack P Hruska, Jesse Holmes, Carl Oliveros, Subir Shakya, Philip Lavretsky, Kevin G McCracken, Frederick H Sheldon, Robert G Moyle

Ornithology, ukad005, https://doi.org/10.1093/ornithology/ukad005 Published: 22 January 2023


Thoroughly sampled and well-supported phylogenetic trees are essential to taxonomy and to guide studies of evolution and ecology. Despite extensive prior inquiry, a comprehensive tree of heron relationships (Aves: Ardeidae) has not yet been published. As a result, the classification of this family remains unstable, and their evolutionary history remains poorly studied. Here, we sample genome-wide ultraconserved elements (UCEs) and mitochondrial DNA sequences (mtDNA) of >90% of extant species to estimate heron phylogeny using a combination of maximum likelihood (ML), coalescent, and Bayesian inference (BI) methods. The UCE and mtDNA trees are mostly concordant with one another, providing a topology that resolves relationships among the 5 heron subfamilies and indicates that the genera GorsachiusBotaurusArdea, and Ixobrychusare not monophyletic. We also present the first genetic data from the Forest Bittern Zonerodius heliosylus, an enigmatic species of New Guinea; our results suggest that it is a member of the genus Ardeola and not the Tigrisomatinae (tiger herons), as previously thought. Lastly, we compare molecular rates between heron clades in the UCE tree with those in previously constructed mtDNA and DNA-DNA hybridization trees. We show that rate variation in the UCE tree corroborates rate patterns in the previously constructed trees—that bitterns (Ixobrychus and Botaurus) evolved comparatively faster, and some tiger herons (Tigrisoma) and the Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius) more slowly, than other heron taxa.

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