A phylogeny of the gulls (Aves: Larinae) inferred from osteological and integumentary characters

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Biology | Evolution | Ornithology


Gulls (Aves: Larinae) are among the best-studied of birds, yet prior attempts to reconstruct gull relationships have met with little success. In the present study I use 117 characters from the skeleton and 64 from the integument to test gull monophyly and estimate gull phylogeny. One shortest tree, requiring 9747 unweighted changes and having a CI of 0.267, was Larusis polyphyletic. Although the tree is fully resolved, support for many of the inferred clades is poor. In a comparison of osteological and integumentary evidence, I found that incongruence between the osteological and integumentary character sets accounts for only a minority of the total incongruence observed, and suggest that low between-set incongruence may be a consequence of the low signal-to-noise ratio in each set of characters. I also found that osteological evidence is particularly important for determining higher-level structure, whereas integumentary evidence is important for resolving lower-level relationships within the gull group. Finally, I found that integumentary characters are not dramatically more homoplasious than osteological characters, and argue that casual dismissal of integumentary characters as "too labile" is unwarranted.


Contact the author at pchu@csbsju.edu to receive a copy of this article.