The evolution of nest building

  • Hansell M
  • Overhill R
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9.1 Introduction In Chapter 2 it was argued that nest building has been a feature of the biology of birds since their origin, and has had a key role in shaping the relationship in bird reproduction between parents and offspring. The prevalence in birds of biparental care (Ligon 1993) and the universal occurrence of egg laying (Blackburn & Evans 1986) are apparently important manifestations of this. During the evolution of bird nests, designs have become diverse, particularly in the passerines, the order that contains 59% of all living species of birds compared with 41% for all the 22 non-passerine orders put together (Sibley & Monroe 1990). As there is no fossil record of bird nests, can the pattern of diversification of bird nests be map-ped? Has the appearance of new nest designs altered the rate of evolution (in particular of speciation)? Do nest characteristics such as those described in Chapter 5 provide reliable evidence for the reconstruction of bird phylogeny? These are matters for consider-ation in this chapter. Collias (1997) distinguishes three types of nest based on their overall architecture: hole, open and domed nests. Examining the handful of families considered to be among the most primitive of the passerines, i.e. (in the sub-order Tyranni) the Eurylaimidae (broadbills), Formicariidae (ground antbirds), and Rhinocryptidae (tapaculos), and (in the sub-order Passeri) Menuridae (Australian lyrebirds) (Sibley et al. 1988, Sibley & Monroe 1990), he finds all three basic nest types represented. The Eurylaimidae universally build domed nests, the Rhinocryptidae predominantly burrow nests, and the Formicariidae open cups. Collias (1997) concludes that the diversity of bird nest design evolved early, so early, indeed, that the ancestral form in the nest of the order Passeriformes cannot be deduced. The explanation of Collias (1997) for this early diversification of nests is based partly on the nature of the birds themselves and partly on the ecological opportunities offered to them. Mobility gave them access to the great diversity of new habitats that were appearing in 217 Downloaded from Cambridge Books Online by IP on Tue Aug 09 23:41:13 BST 2016.

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  • Mike Hansell

  • Raith Overhill

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