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The classification used here includes all ratites in the order Struthioniformes, but not the tinamous. This may change in future.
Evolution and systematics
It was once thought that ratites were all one monophyletic group, which evolved together in Gondwana in the Upper Cretaceous. Then they evolved in their separate ways as Gondwana split up, and the parts drifted apart. The parts became the modern southern continents, plus Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
However, modern gene analysis conflicts with this. DNA analysis shows that the ratites diverged from one another too recently to share a common Gondwanian ancestor. However, all analyses show that rheas (South America) and the living Australasian/Oceanian ratites are monophyletic.
If so, this would make 'ratites', as a whole, paraphyletic rather than monophyletic. Since tinamous are weak fliers, this raises interesting questions about the evolution of flightlessness in this group. If timamous are inside the ratite lineage, then ratites evolved flightlessness at least three times. Re-evolution of flight in the tinamous would be an alternative explanation, but that has no precedent in bird evolution, while loss of flight is commonplace.
Tinamous are ratites. Therefore, ratites are a group of medium to large birds, most of whom are flightless, with the exception of the tinamous. The ratites evolved flightlessness more than once. The similarities between Ostriches and the Australo-Pacific ratites is due to convergent evolution.
- Gondwana included the southern hemisphere continents plus Africa, Madagascar, Arabia and the Indian subcontinent.
- Haddrath, O.; Baker, A. (2001). "Complete mitochondrial DNA genome sequences of extinct birds: Ratite phylogenetics and the vicariance biogeography hypothesis". Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 268 (1470): 939–945. . . . http://journals.royalsociety.org/content/597tbumbn1wr76k3/.
- Cooper, A.; Lalueza-Fox, C.; Anderson, S.; Rambaut, A.; Austin, J.; Ward, R. (2001-02-08). "Complete mitochondrial genome sequences of two extinct Moas clarify Ratite evolution". Nature 409 (6821): 704–707. . . http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v409/n6821/abs/409704a0.html. Retrieved 2008-04-05.
- Harshman, J.; et al. (2008-09-09). "Phylogenetic evidence for multiple losses of flight in Ratite birds". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 105 (36): 13462–13467. . . . http://www.pnas.org/content/105/36/13462. Retrieved 2008-10-17.
- Hackett, Shannon J.; et al. (2008-06-27). "A phylogenomic study of birds reveals their evolutionary history". Science 320 (5884): 1763–1768. . . http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/320/5884/1763. Retrieved 2008-10-18.
- Holmes, Bob (2008-06-16). "Bird evolutionary tree given a shake by DNA study". New Scientist. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14212-bird-evolutionary-tree-given-a-shake-by-dna-study.html. Retrieved 2009-02-04.