This project will use multiple genes to produce a well-resolved evolutionary tree for the avian order Galliformes, which includes the two most economically important birds (the chicken and turkey), some of the most spectacular and recognizable birds (such as peafowl and pheasants), and some of the most important avian model systems (e.g., the chicken and Japanese quail). This order also includes some of the most commonly hunted birds, many of which have been the focus of management studies. Hunting, combined with other factors such as habitat loss, has led to population declines, and many of these species are now of conservation concern. Evolutionary relationships in this group are poorly resolved, which has limited the ability to put the extensive information about galliform species into a comparative framework and hindered decisions regarding conservation priorities. In addition to producing a well-resolved phylogeny of the Galliformes, the collection of large numbers of loci for many species will allow us to explore several other issues, including several rapid radiations at different evolutionary depths and the impact of factors that can cause discordance between individual genes and the species history.
The data generated from this project will also be used to develop classroom exercises for undergraduate courses in genetics and evolution, allowing large numbers of students to conduct research in the classroom. This will facilitate our efforts to improve science pedagogy and allow students to contribute to cutting-edge evolutionary research. The data from this study will be made broadly available through public databases and our own websites for other researchers to use.