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Keywords:

  • Aves;
  • correlated evolution;
  • morphological convergence;
  • morphological evolution;
  • phylogenetic comparative methods;
  • skeletal pneumaticity

Extensive skeletal pneumaticity (air-filled bone) is a distinguishing feature of birds. The proportion of the skeleton that is pneumatized varies considerably among the >10,000 living species, with notable patterns including increases in larger bodied forms, and reductions in birds employing underwater pursuit diving as a foraging strategy. I assess the relationship between skeletal pneumaticity and body mass and foraging ecology, using a dataset of the diverse “waterbird” clade that encompasses a broad range of trait variation. Inferred changes in pneumaticity and body mass are congruent across different estimates of phylogeny, whereas pursuit diving has evolved independently between two and five times. Phylogenetic regressions detected positive relationships between body mass and pneumaticity, and negative relationships between pursuit diving and pneumaticity, whether independent variables are considered in isolation or jointly. Results are generally consistent across different estimates of topology and branch lengths. “Predictive” analyses reveal that several pursuit divers (loons, penguins, cormorants, darters) are significantly apneumatic compared to their relatives, and provide an example of how phylogenetic information can increase the statistical power to detect taxa that depart from established trait correlations. These findings provide the strongest quantitative comparative support yet for classical hypotheses regarding the evolution of avian skeletal pneumaticity.