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Keywords:

  • Anhimidae;
  • Anseranas;
  • Aves;
  • Anseriformes;
  • cladistics;
  • fossils;
  • Galliformes;
  • palaeontology;
  • Presbyornis;
  • morphology;
  • systematics;
  • waterfowl

A phylogenetic analysis of 123 morphological characters of basal waterfowl (Aves: Anseriformes) and other selected avian orders confirmed that the screamers (Anhimae: Anhitn-idae) are the sister-group of other waterfowl (Anseres), and that the magpie goose (Anseranatidae: Anseranas semipalmata) is the sister group of other modern waterfowl exclusive of screamers (Anatidae sensu stricto). The analysis also supports the traditional hypothesis of the gallinaceous birds (Galliformes) as the sister group of the Anseriformes. Presbyornis, a fossil from the early Eocene of Wyoming and averred by Olson & Feduccia as showing that the Anseriformes were derived from shorebirds (Charadriiformes), was found to represent the sister group of the Anatidae. Associated hypotheses by Olson & Feduccia concerning the implications of Presbyornis for the phylogenetic relationships of flamingos (Phoenicopteriformes), the position of the Anhimidae within the waterfowl, relationships among modern Anatidae, and a plausible evolutionary scenario for waterfowl also are rejected. Analyses revealed that cranial characters were critical to the establishment of the Galliformes as the sister group of the Anseriformes; exclusion of the Anhimidae, especially in combination with Anseranas, also undermined the support for this inference. Placement of Presbyornis as the sister group of the Anatidae casts doubt on the role suggested by Feduccia of ‘transitional shorebirds' in the origin of modern avian orders, and calls into question the concept of ‘fossil mosaics’. The phylogenetic hypothesis is used to reconstruct an evolutionary scenario for selected ecomorphological characters in the galliform-anseriform transition, to predict the most parsimonious states of these characters for Presbyornis, and to propose a phylogenetic classification of the higher-order taxa of waterfowl. This re-examination of Presbyornis also is used to exemplify the fundamental methodological shortcomings of the intuitive approach to the reconstruction of phylogenetic relationships.