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Genomic insights into the secondary aquatic transition of penguins

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-07-26, 05:09 authored by TL Cole, C Zhou, M Fang, H Pan, DT Ksepka, SR Fiddaman, CA Emerling, DB Thomas, X Bi, Q Fang, MR Ellegaard, S Feng, AL Smith, TA Heath, AJD Tennyson, PG Borboroglu, JR Wood, PW Hadden, S Grosser, CA Bost, Y Cherel, T Mattern, T Hart, MHS Sinding, LD Shepherd, RA Phillips, P Quillfeldt, JF Masello, JL Bouzat, PG Ryan, DR Thompson, Ursula EllenbergUrsula Ellenberg, P Dann, G Miller, P Dee Boersma, R Zhao, MTP Gilbert, H Yang, DX Zhang, G Zhang

Penguins lost the ability to fly more than 60 million years ago, subsequently evolving a hyper-specialized marine body plan. Within the framework of a genome-scale, fossil-inclusive phylogeny, we identify key geological events that shaped penguin diversification and genomic signatures consistent with widespread refugia/recolonization during major climate oscillations. We further identify a suite of genes potentially underpinning adaptations related to thermoregulation, oxygenation, diving, vision, diet, immunity and body size, which might have facilitated their remarkable secondary transition to an aquatic ecology. Our analyses indicate that penguins and their sister group (Procellariiformes) have the lowest evolutionary rates yet detected in birds. Together, these findings help improve our understanding of how penguins have transitioned to the marine environment, successfully colonizing some of the most extreme environments on Earth.


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Nature Communications



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Springer Nature



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© The Author(s) 2022 This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit

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