Multiple Reversals of Bill Length over 1.7 Million Years in a Hawaiian Bird Lineage

The American Naturalist
Leonard A FreedRebecca L Cann


Evolutionary change has been documented over geological time, but reversals in morphology, from an ancestral state to a derived state and back again, tend to be rare. Multiple reversals along the same lineage are even rarer. We use the chronology of the Hawaiian Islands and an avian example, the Hawaiian honeycreeper 'amakihi (Hemignathus spp.) lineage, which originated on the oldest main island of Kaua'i 1.7 million years ago, to examine the process of sequential reversals in bill length. We document three single and two multiple reversals of bill length on six main islands from oldest to youngest, consistent with the phylogeny of the lineage. Longer bills occur on islands with endemic species, including phylogenetically relevant outgroups, that may compete with or dominate the 'amakihi. On islands without those species, the 'amakihi had shorter bills of similar length. Both types of reversals in morphology in this lineage integrate microevolutionary processes with macroevolution in the adaptive radiation of Hawaiian honeycreepers.

Associated Datasets

Related Concepts

Bill, Avian
Science of Morphology
Honeycreeper, NOS

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