Taxonomy term

evolutionary biology

Bird genomes untangle branches of avian family tree

Birds, the only surviving descendants of dinosaurs, have one of the most fascinating — and perplexing — family trees in the animal kingdom. To sort it out, an international collaboration known as the Avian Phylogenomics Project has sequenced the genomes of dozens of different bird species, representing all the orders in the bird family. Even with a glut of new data, however, many questions remain about the branches of the avian family tree.

22 Apr 2015

Highlights of 2010: What does it mean to be human?

The sequencing of the Neanderthal genome in 2010 helps scientists answer the age-old question

01 Dec 2010

Questions arise over earliest evidence of human tool use

The debate over when our ancestors first used stone tools is not over just yet. In August, researchers had reported finding scratch marks on two 3.4-million-year-old animal bones that they said were made by Australopithecus afarensis — the ancestor made famous by Lucy — scraping meat off the bones with sharp-edged stones. If true, that would push tool use back to 800,000 years earlier than previously thought.

18 Nov 2010

Paleo Patrol: Primates of the Caribbean

The only monkeys you’ll find on the islands of the Caribbean today were brought there (intentionally or not) by people. But just a few thousand years ago, thriving populations of primates existed across the Caribbean. The discovery of exceptionally well-preserved monkey bones in the Dominican Republic is helping researchers better understand the evolutionary history of these now-extinct primates.

22 Jul 2010

Paleo Patrol: Was mankind's first leap in a forest or savanna?

Last October, scientists formally introduced the world to Ardi the Ardipithecus, the well-preserved skeleton of a 4.4-million-year-old hominin found in Ethiopia. Eight months later, scientists have had time to digest the data from all 11 papers that were published in Science last fall regarding Ardi’s biology and ecology, and there is some dissent.

28 May 2010

Paleo Patrol: Neanderthal genome offers clues on what makes us human

Did “Clan of the Cave Bear” get it right after all?

Probably not, but at least one aspect of the ice age saga is true: Modern humans interbred with Neanderthals. In fact, for many of us, as much as 4 percent of our DNA may be Neanderthal DNA. That’s the conclusion of a group of 56 scientists who have just announced today in Science that they’ve completed a draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome.

06 May 2010

Paleo Patrol: A hominin family reunion at the Smithsonian

Last month, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., unveiled its new (permanent) human evolution exhibit: the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. The exhibit seeks to answer the millennia-old question, What does it mean to be human?

29 Apr 2010

How amphibious whales returned to the sea

Millions of years ago, the first animals emerged from their watery habitat to live on dry land. After becoming fully adapted to a terrestrial environment, however, some animals, such as whales, ultimately returned to the ocean. But the evolutionary steps involved in that watery return have long been a mystery. Now, some exceptional fossils — and one really old baby — are shedding some light on how whales went back to the sea.

19 Feb 2009