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Keywords:

  • evolution;
  • fossil birds;
  • Juncitarsus;
  • Palaelodidae;
  • phylogeny

A recent molecular analysis strongly supported sister group relationship between flamingos (Phoenicopteridae) and grebes (Podicipedidae), a hypothesis which has not been suggested before. Flamingos are long-legged filter-feeders whereas grebes are morphologically quite divergent foot-propelled diving birds, and sister group relationship between these two taxa would thus provide an interesting example of evolution of different feeding strategies in birds. To test monophyly of a clade including grebes and flamingos, I performed a cladistic analysis of 70 morphological characters which were scored for 17 taxa. Parsimony analysis of these data supported monophyly of the taxon (Podicipedidae + Phoenicopteridae) and the clade received high bootstrap support. Previously overlooked morphological, oological and parasitological evidence is recorded which supports this hypothesis, and which makes the taxon (Podicipedidae + Phoenicopteridae) one of the best supported higher-level clades within modern birds. The phylogenetic significance of some fossil flamingo-like birds is discussed. The Middle Eocene taxon Juncitarsus is most likely the sister taxon of the clade (Podicipedidae + (Palaelodidae + Phoenicopteridae)) although resolution of its exact systematic position awaits revision of the fossil material. Contrary to previous assumptions, it is more parsimonious to assume that flamingos evolved from a highly aquatic ancestor than from a shorebird-like ancestor. © 2004 The Linnean Society of London, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2004, 140, 157–169.