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YOUR TURN: Understanding Phylogenetics

These days, when you hear about a species bing “split” or “lumped”, you can probably bet that at the heart of the decision was a scientific paper about genetics that included phylogenetic trees. And unless you have a background in biology, you may be confused about what you’re seeing. That’s why we asked ornithologist Nick Block to talk about them in the October 2015 issue of Birder’s Guide to Listing & Taxonomy.

Nick did a great job of explaining, in simple terms, how the trees are constructed and how we should interpret them. (Click here to read his article.) If after reading Nick’s explanation, you have a question for him, please leave it the comment section below. He’ll be happy to answer.

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Michael Retter
Michael L. P. Retter is the editor of the ABA's newest magazine, Birder's Guide. He also wears his ABA cap while working as a Technical Reviewer for Birding magazine. When not at home, Michael is often leading tours in Middle America (Mexico through Panama). He currently lives with his fiancé, Matt, in Fort Worth, Texas. In his fleeting free time there, he pursues interests in horticulture (especially orchids), music, cooking, and numismatics. Michael also runs GBNA, the continent's informal club and email list for LGBT birders.
  • Wim van Dam

    I enjoyed this article a lot as it did a pretty good job explaining some of the terminology. However, I did not understand the explanation of how the taxonomic order is determined. The articles says about this: “Phylogenies tend to be presented in such a way that the longer of two branches extending forward from a node always goes on the same side of the node…” (What does it mean to “extend forward” or to be on “the same side of [a] node”?) I wouldn’t mind reading an alternative explanation of this.

  • Nick Barber

    Wim, I’m not sure if the image will appear, but here’s an attempt to illustrate it below. Taxon A has the longest branch, so it’s arranged first, then taxon B with the second-longest branch, then taxa C & D with the same length branches. Within any given monophyletic clade, this arrangement preferentially puts longer branches on the left. So in the B/C/D monophyletic clade, you put B before C/D. You could, of course, put them preferentially on the right (or top/bottom if the phylogeny is drawn horizontally).

  • Pingback: Birder’s Guide to Listing & Taxonomy: 
October 2015 « ABA Publications()

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