Songbirds could be Australian in origin, science journal says


Thu, Jul 22, 2004 - Page 5

A DNA study has found the northern hemisphere's much-loved songbirds actually evolved in Australia 45 million years ago.

Australian bird experts said the findings, published this week in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, overturned 200 years of assumptions about avian evolution.

The research by US and Swiss scientists, led by Keith Barker from the Bell Museum of Natural History in Minnesota, examined the DNA of passerida, or perching birds, which comprise half of world's bird species.

Barker said it was previously thought that birds evolved in Europe and Asia about 40 million years ago but DNA evidence showed the earliest passerida appeared in the western part of the ancient Gondwana supercontinent -- the section that eventually formed Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea.

"That means all songbirds trace their origins to Australasia and New Guinea," he said.

Most well known songbirds are not native to Australia, even though it now appears their ancestors originated there.