mtDNA from fossils reveals a radiation of Hawaiian geese recently derived from the Canada goose (Branta canadensis)
Paxinos, Ellen E.
The National Academy of Sciences
Phylogenetic analysis of 1.35 kb of mtDNA sequence from fossils revealed a previously unknown radiation of Hawaiian geese, of which only one representative remains alive (the endangered Hawaiian goose or nene, Branta sandvicensis). This radiation is nested phylogenetically within a living species, the Canada goose (Branta canadensis) and is related most closely to the large-bodied lineage within that species. The barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis) is also nested within the Canada goose species and is related most closely to the small-bodied lineage of Canada geese. The peripheral isolation of the barnacle goose in the Palearctic apparently allowed the evolution of its distinctive plumage pattern, whereas the two Nearctic lineages of Canada geese share a primitive plumage pattern. The Hawaiian lineage of Canada geese diverged more dramatically, splitting into at least three species that differ in body size, body proportions, and flight ability. One fossil species, limited to the island of Hawaii, was related closely to the nene but was over four times larger, flightless, heavy-bodied and had a much more robust cranium. Application of a rate calibration to levels of DNA divergence suggests that this species evolved on the island of Hawaii in less than 500,000 years. This date is consistent with the potassium/argon-based age of the island of Hawaii of 430,000–500,000 years. The giant Hawaii goose resembles the moa-nalos, a group of massive, extinct, flightless ducks that lived on older Hawaiian Islands and thus is an example of convergent evolution of similar morphologies in island ecosystems.
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